Category Archives: Adult

Winter of Ice and Iron

Title: Winter of Ice and Iron

Author: Rachel Neumeier

When the Mad King invades, Kehera finds herself a pawn in a struggle between nations and their Immanent Powers. Innisth is a minor lord determined to keep his land under his control, and is searching for the best way to deflect his king’s attention so he can be left to rule his lands as he sees fit. The two of them may be the only ones able to stop the world from plunging into chaos during the four days of winter when the Unfortunate Gods are strongest. . .

First, a content warning: although the acts happen offscreen, the book does contain numerous instances of rape (of both men and women), abuse, and Innisth has a homosexual relationship with one of his staff. If I had known this going in, I might have passed on the book, because I really don’t like reading stories with rape or abuse, no matter how obliquely they’re portrayed.

For me the magic system was the most interesting part of the book. Each country has become so largely because of the Immanent Powers that are tied to the land in that location. The strength of the Immanent determines if it’s subordinated to some other or ruling others, which is how the four main countries formed. But it’s not like the people know all that much about Immanent Powers and how they work—there’s a very strong prohibition against experimenting with them thanks to one major and a couple of minor disasters spawned from bad things the Immanents did when humans got creative. And of course, as much as humans may want more power, if their Immanent decides to ascend to godhood, even the best of them cause disasters and leave the land empty for a time.

On the flip side, it is puzzling that the Powers have no concept of equivalent relationships. It’s all about dominance and subordination.

The book did feel a bit long to me. There are a lot of longer descriptive passages, and I wasn’t always a fan of when the story would cut away from the main two to show some of what the more minor characters were doing. It felt like it took a long time for Kehera and Innisth to meet. Once they do, Kehera–who was able to go along with the idea of being married off to a maniac on the slim chance she could be rescued, and to keep her country from being destroyed–balks at the idea of a similar sort of alliance with Innisth. Even though she agrees with all of his reasons.

It’s not her protest I minded so much as what she did next. In a moment where she totally loses her head, she causes a disaster within Innisth’s household. That was one of two moments I really didn’t care for in the book. Innisth did need people to stand up to him and challenge him in a nice way (those not trying to take over his country), but that was a cruel–and more importantly, really stupid–way to do it. Now she’s really angered the guy that needs to help save her country.

Another thing I really disliked was Innisth telling his new wife, right after they get married, that he has no intention of giving up his homosexual lover. This fits his character. What bothers me is that his wife is totally fine with the fact he’s going to be sharing his attentions with someone else. She’s started to care for him, and regardless of whether she agrees with his decision or not, I can’t believe she wouldn’t feel at least a little slighted or rejected or jealous that he’s basically told her she won’t be allowed his full loyalty.

And I didn’t care for how the ending treated Innisth. Tirovay seems to be advocating for himself the exact thing he doesn’t want Innisth to do, but it’s okay because he’s not Innisth.

Anyway, overall it was not a story I would read again. I rate this book Neutral.

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Waking (Clockwork Twist #1)

Title: Waking

Author: Emily Thompson

Series: Clockwork Twist #1

Twist is a clockmaker living in London, and perfectly happy with his life. When a woman hires him to fix a clockwork princess straight out of fairy tales, he’s reluctant to abandon his home, but determined to fix the girl. Because Twist has a Sight: he can see what’s wrong with anything he touches. So he’s sure he can do it. But pirates and other hazards threaten him . . .

I mostly loved this. Twist is so much fun. He’s grumpy about having left home, very vocal about being anti-people, and single-minded about helping the clockwork princess. I was particularly amused at how Arabel’s attempts to flirt die against his determination not to engage with her. And he’s got the crew pegged, when he rails at them about how they treat Jonas, because he’s not afraid to call out the ways they misinterpret or mistreat him.

The other really interesting thing about Twist is how his Sight has basically destroyed his life. He sees how things are broken when he touches them (or they touch him). This includes people. But whereas a machine has obvious ways to get fixed, people aren’t nearly so easy. That would be bad enough, but even machines can impart enough personality to basically take Twist over for a short while. It’s strong enough that he keeps a pocket watch with his own thoughts locked inside simply to remember what his own self is actually like.

Twist isn’t the only one with a Sight, either. The magic system isn’t explored a lot in this book, but Sights appear to be a rare but decently understood phenomenon. The Sights aren’t the only magical part of this steampunk world, either. Various creatures such as vampires, kitsune, and jinn also exist. (Props for having a male kitsune, too.)

The story never gets bogged down in one place. In some ways it barrels forward almost too fast, because I’d like to see a little more into some of the places, or get a better overview of the world and the magic in it, but on the other hand I appreciated that it never stopped anywhere long enough to get boring. (Also Twist’s bitter tirades on pirates, pirates everywhere, had me laughing hard. He has a definite grudge.)

The one thing I wasn’t so fond of was the obvious romantic overtones to the relationship between Twist and Jonas. Twist ends up falling in love with the clockwork girl, which made a second romance unnecessary. And it annoyed me because I thought Jonas and Twist would be great friends, but instead the story jumps straight to a more romantic angle, which makes some of their interactions a lot more awkward than they would be otherwise.

Overall, this was a fun little story, and I’m hoping the series drops the extra relationship as an unneeded distraction and goes with a more friendship angle (probably a futile hope, but whatever). I rate this book Recommended.

The Desecrator (Vlad Taltos)

Title: The Desecrator

Author: Steven Brust

Series: Vlad Taltos (same universe, set sometime before Dzur)

When Telnan was sent by Sethra Lavode to seek out a disturbance, he wasn’t sure what he’d find. This short story features Telnan (from Dzur), Daymar, and an ancient artifact that just wants to kill everyone.

This was short and humorous, although I kept thinking it was Vlad narrating even though all the secondary details made it obviously someone else. Daymar’s attempt to defend his activities was particularly giggle-worthy.

Recommended for fans of the Vlad Taltos series. It will probably still be funny otherwise, but some of the references will be lost.

Read for free here: https://www.tor.com/2011/03/02/the-desecrator/

Vallista (Vlad Taltos #15)

Title: Vallista

Author: Steven Brust

Series: Vlad Taltos #15

Vlad Taltos is just trying to stay out of trouble. He’s wanted by the Jhereg, hiding in the Easterner’s quarter, and in no mood for any adventures. But then Devera shows up asking for help. She’s trapped in a strange house, and wants Vlad to get her out. She neglected to mention that simply entering the house would trap him too. Now Vlad has to figure out the secrets behind a house whose interior twists through space and time and whose occupants are less than friendly. At least, if he ever wants to leave . . .

This was a solid book, although since Vlad spends most of it figuring things out on his own and not really interacting with others, there’s less opportunity for the humor that’s so defined this series. It is funny to watch Vlad struggle through puzzling out the way the magic was set up. He’s always hated Daymar, but in this case he could use the Hawklord’s help. Vlad is more used to solving problems by putting knives in them, or threatening to put knives in them, or running away from other people’s knives.

It is a fascinating look at what necromancy actually encompasses in this world, though. Despite being friends with THE Necromancer, Vlad only has the faintest ideas of what it actually does. I really liked following him as he struggles to comprehend a magical discipline he’s never used.

I was a bit sad that since this is set chronologically before the events of Hawk, we’ll be waiting a bit longer to see the outcome of everything Vlad did there. This story stands alone pretty well, as Vlad has never been very chatty about his past, and therefore the backstory is both minimal and largely irrelevant.

This isn’t going to be one of my favorite books in the series, but it is something I would read again. I rate this book Recommended.

Preludes to War (Eve of Redemption #6)

Title: Preludes to War

Author: Joe Jackson

Series: Eve of Redemption #6

Karian Vanador owes a favor to the demon king Morduri. She’s not very happy about that, and even less so when he calls it in immediately after she’s become the new Avatar of Vengeance. But Morduri was right to say he’d only ask for something she’d be willing to give—and her assignment now offers her a chance to strike a tangible blow against Sekassus, the demon king she hates the most.

With Grakin gone, Kari’s working her way through her feelings again. She doesn’t want to stay stuck in grief, but she doesn’t know if she’s ready for a new relationship. I’m curious to see more of Kris, as the little bit we do see show he’s a very different person than Grakin was, and one perhaps better matched to Kari’s hunter lifestyle. Especially if she does end up with a war against the demon kings (which, given the ending, looks entirely possible to be far sooner than she thought).

Kari’s actual fulfillment of her bargain is one of my favorite parts of the whole series. Not just the act itself, but everything that built up to it—the disguise she uses to infiltrate Sekassus’s territory, the way she interacts with the locals, and all of the little bonuses she scored for Morduri. She’s planning for the long-term. And it’s her compassion, as well as her martial skills, that draw so many others to follow her lead.

Also Kari is learning bad words in other languages, and putting them to excellent use. *evil grin*

I like how she’s forging relationships between the worlds. Person by person, both the powerful and the ordinary, she’s fighting for people who often don’t know how to fight for themselves. She’s stirring them to want freedom. This is most personal with Seanada, who has grown to be a friend, and who Kari wants to find happiness in places where Seanada is too cautious to try.

Favorite quotes:

Seanada smiled at her mother, and the two chuckled.  “Not every problem can be solved with a knife, but I try that first anyway,” the assassin said.

All in all, given what this book did and where it left off, I absolutely can’t wait for the next installment. These are funny, exciting, and full of so much heart. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Huntress’ Game (Eve of Redemption #5)

Title: The Huntress’ Game

Author: Joe Jackson

Series: Eve of Redemption #5

Kari is caught between duties and family. Grakin’s condition is worsening, but it isn’t easy taking time away from her job. For one, the demon king Koursturaux isn’t willing to put off her visit any longer. In addition, Zalkar has set the final trial in her testing to become the next Avatar of Vengeance: to deal with her former friend-turned-vampire Annabelle Sol’Ridachi. Who was probably turned by a vampire black dragon. Who lives in an old fort that’s all but impossible to assail. But Kari’s wanted for years to give her former partner the peace of actual death, and now she has reason to try.

I really hope Kari one day gets to stick a sword (or other appropriate pointy object) into the actual demon kings. She’s a long, long way from that now, though, and she knows it. This visit to a demon king in the seat of her power isn’t quite what Kari expects, but that doesn’t mean she’s safe. It’s a delicate balancing act, with a lot of diplomacy (which Kari doesn’t have much of) and nerves of steel (which she has plenty of) to help her through.

The characters and action are both strong, as expected from the series this far, and this book continues in that excellent tradition. The plot continues to throw out one surprise after another—I did NOT expect how this ended at all. In fact there are several neat surprises along the way, too. Kari’s continuing to draw friends and allies from the unlikeliest of places.

And there’s so much heart. Kari introducing her daughter Uldriana to the original Uldriana’s parents was one of my favorite scenes. The mallasti did so much with so little, and her brief encounter will resonate for a long time to come.

Overall, if you’ve been following along with the series so far there’s not much more I can say to recommend it, as every single book has been excellent. If you’re new to the series, start at Salvation’s Dawn to avoid spoiling yourself on some of the bigger surprises. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Legacy of the Devil Queen (Eve of Redemption #4)

Title: Legacy of the Devil Queen

Author: Joe Jackson

Series: Eve of Redemption #4

Kari has a million things to do, but she’s going to have to learn to delegate. Pregnancy keeps her bound to a more local, administrative job for now, which is irritating because something is razing small villages and leaving no survivors. So the Silver Blades must go to figure out what kind of creature is responsible, while Kari handles trying to root out whoever is leaking the Order’s plans and secrets to outsiders. Because if she can’t find the traitor, the demon kings have an even greater advantage. . .

This is mostly split between two storylines, and both are strong. The Silver Blades have what seems to be a straightforward mission, except the demon—is it a demon?–they’re hunting is like nothing they’ve ever seen before. And it’s capable of killing highly trained warriors before they can even strike a blow in return, which presents some complications to the usual strategies.

In addition, Erik’s father is finally back in the picture. No one’s ever said before why his parents split apart, but now we have some of the reason, and the fumbling attempts at reconciliation.

I also loved the followup on various things from previous books, whether it was the situation with the brys or how Ty can find new purpose after his devastating injuries. Kari’s actions resonate in ways no one could have expected.

And I’m thrilled that werewolves play into the ongoing plot. They’re an intriguing addition and I hope to see a lot more of them as this tentative alliance deepens.

The humor is also on point. Some favorite bits:

“Should be just like old times,” Aeligos said. “Hi, you two! We’re headed into a possible war; would you like to join us? It’ll build character!”

Or watching Erik’s reaction to a certain mayor was also comedy gold (and Kari’s letter about it is just as funny).

Or the werewolves:
“Thank God for that,” Gil said. “I’m terrible with keeping track of titles, proper forms of address, and all that. Out in the wilds, we have three titles: friend, foe, and prey. And the last is only for food animals.”

Overall this is another strong installment in an excellent series. I rate this book Highly Recommended.