Centaur of the Crime (Fantasy & Forensics #1)

Title: Centaur of the Crime

Author: Michael Angel

Series: Fantasy & Forensics #1

Dayna is a crime scene analyst in Los Angeles. When an unidentified body promises a new case, she sets to work as usual. But nothing about this is going according to her expectations. Transported to another world, where she joins forces with a griffin, a centaur, and a talking deer, she’s under a tight deadline to solve the mystery of a murdered monarch before a war breaks out. And before the killer manages to add her to the list of victims . . .

This was so much fun. The beginning sets things up like a typical crime scene drama, with the personalities of Dayna and several of the cops coming through loud and clear. We have a mysterious dead man—and someone seems to object to the investigation.

And then the magic hits, and Dayna is suddenly in another world, summoned by a centaur wizard.

I loved the characters. Dayna is tough and competent, and trying hard to do what she does best in a place where she doesn’t know any of the rules. Investigating a dead king is tough when most of the suspects are nobility that can’t be offended (read: questioned), so she’s stuck looking at the evidence and trying to draw conclusions from there. So this is less about the “beat cop” side of crime scene investigations, and much more about the forensics.

Then there’s Galen, the formal centaur wizard, who is in the uncomfortable position of being one of the only centaurs in human lands while the centaurs are gearing up for war against them. Or Shaw, the even-more-formal griffin, whose honor is as great as his thirst for battle. Even if he isn’t as young as he used to be. Or Prince Liam, the fayleene who gets volunteered because he’s unlucky.

Everyone’s bursting with personality, but also complexity. Many crime novels don’t focus much on character depth, but this one puts equal weight on the characters and the crime.

So if you’re looking for a fun fantasy/mystery, this should definitely be on the list of books to check out. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

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The Men of the Kingdom Part II (Overlord #6)

Title: The Men of the Kingdom Part II

Author: Kugane Maruyama

Series: Overlord #6

Sebas must own up to the snowballing mess that his involvement with Tsuare has become. But even after he and Ainz come to an agreement, it’s not over—the Eight Fingers have taken the offensive. Now the forces of Nazarick, the Blue Roses, and the Eight Fingers are set to collide . . .

If volume 5 was almost entirely setup, volume 6 is almost entirely payoff. And what a payoff! From Sebas’s nervous confrontation with Ainz to a much bigger Eight Fingers raid to the conflict with Demiurge, this volume races from high point to high point.

Yet it’s not all action. There’s plenty of humor, too, whether it’s Evileye unexpectedly falling in love, Ainz stumbling across Demiurge’s plots and trying desperately not to derail them, or the fight between Nabe and some of the other maids.

And if you’re reading between the lines, there are some intriguing things going on behind the scenes. I didn’t even realize until I was reading comments on the anime episode but Pandora’s Actor is actually the original “Ainz” confronting Sebas—there are a few small clues but it’s never outright stated. And there are additional revelations that call earlier events into question.

So this volume is loaded with so many good moments it’s hard to pick a favorite. I love watching Ainz scramble not to look stupid in front of his subordinates, and the multiple mock-fights between the various members of Nazarick. Sebas is awesome (“Just a little bit stronger” indeed).

This book finishes out season 2 of the anime. I would recommend reading it even if you’ve seen the show, as some things get more exposition here, especially all the quick scenes at the end. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Shield of Kuromori (The Sword of Kuromori #2)

Title: The Shield of Kuromori

Author; Jason Rohan

Series: The Shield of Kuromori

Kenny Blackwood only meant to save his new friend Kiyomi from an untimely death—but what he’s unleashed in her might be worse. With an oni’s lifeforce now powering her body, she’s starting to adopt oni mannerisms and habits. So he’s determined to find her a cure. No matter what it costs . . .

I didn’t like this one as much as the first. I did actually enjoy Kiyomi’s changing personality, as I felt that saving her in the prior book was a big cop out, and seeing that the action has ongoing consequences has made that more palatable. But Kenny is in the process of throwing everything away for the sake of “fixing” her, and it’s not hard to see that this is going to land him in a whole heap of trouble in the long term.

(Besides, she doesn’t seem to be losing her essential personality. It’s basically her with new eating habits and anger management issues. Which is to say not very different from before at all.)

The book is still packed with a variety of weird Japanese monsters. This time, though, there’s a particular gang of them in addition to the random surprises. And this gang is acting much more intelligently than the rest. I liked the mystery of what was actually going on with the telescopes. (And the humor involved in the whole setup.)

I was less fond of the new human characters. I loathed Stacey. Pushy girls that will pretend to be in danger to get a reaction just hit all my “please someone kill you quickly” responses. But she’s wriggled her way into Kenny’s life (mostly by blackmailing him) so I guess the story will be stuck with her in the future too.

Overall I was mostly annoyed as I read this book. Annoyed at Kenny for pretending to go along with people only to abandon them when they were counting on him. Super annoyed at Stacey. And I’m not sure I care about the series enough to finish it out, especially since that currently means tracking down a copy of the third book. Maybe if my library gets them I’ll reconsider. For now, I rate this book Neutral.

The Sword of Kuromori (The Sword of Kuromori #1)

Title: The Sword of Kuromori

Author: Jason Rohan

Series: The Sword of Kuromori #1

Kenny Blackwood is on his way to Japan to meet his father, but he hasn’t even arrived before things start going weird. From the fuzzy animal in the luggage compartment to the various monsters that are wandering around, the various invisible residents aren’t able to hide from him. The problem is they hate being noticed. And like it or not, Kenny’s coming into this on the heels of his grandfather’s formidable reputation . . .

I liked the sheer amount and variety of monsters in this. Starting with the tanuki, Poyo, and branching out from oni and kappa to less familiar (but mostly deadly) creatures, Kenny’s experience of Japan is a menagerie of folklore.

I also appreciated that the story tried to give some depth to why Kenny is being drawn into all these things. He has family history with the work his grandfather did in Japan just after WWII, and that’s tied to why so many youkai are transferring old grudges or alliances to Kenny.

The romance was less appealing. Half the time Kenny and Kiyomi are fighting, and then just as suddenly they’re crushing on each other. The mood swings happened often enough to really annoy me, as sometimes there’s no buildup at all and suddenly he’s desperate for her. I also don’t like the trick pulled at the end. Taro’s offer lacked much impact because he’s not really there in the story except as a background character until that moment.

The card game also felt like a letdown. Since the rules are never explained, it’s hard not to feel like a random “I win” for whichever character is winning. There’s no sense of tension because we can’t follow the game, so all the games shown are basically two-turn affairs where the first player looks like they’re doing well until the second player crushes them.

Although ironically the thing I find hardest to believe is that he actually LIKED natto.

Overall this was okay. I didn’t like it as much as I hoped, but all the monsters helped keep my interest enough to finish. I rate this book Recommended.

The Awakening (Eve of Redemption #8)

Title: The Awakening

Author: Joe Jackson

Series: Eve of Redemption #8

The dead are rising, and the cities have called a council to address the issue. But a group of attendees aren’t content to just talk—they’ve banded together to investigate. Leighandra, a half-elf who is neither great warrior nor great mage, finds herself swept up in that group who seeks the truth . . .

I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I bought the book anyway because I love the series.

This follows a new set of characters, although it lightly touches on Kari’s adventures (mostly as reports or rumors from other characters) which helps orient series readers to where this is in the timeline. Because of that, this is also a good place for new readers to hop in despite being so late in the series.

Despite a mostly new cast, there are a few cameos. Karinda has a small role, and it’s hysterical to see the differences between how Karinda acts with Kari versus this bunch. Kari just can’t help seeing a familiar friend and these guys get O Mighty Archmage.

Of the new cast, I adore Max, who is a lunarar (wolf-like humaniod). I like his wife, and how the two of them interact. I’m really not much of a romance fan in general—I hate “relationships” that are just physical attraction, especially when one or both of the participants are behaving in ways that would be clear warning signs in a real relationship (so sick of “dark past” love interests who are just jerks with a pretty face). Max and Audrei were so much the opposite. They had an established relationship, based on mutual respect, and they were both PEOPLE WORTHY OF RESPECT. They honored each other. They were kind to each other and to those around them. They were HUMBLE. But they weren’t some too-perfect-to-feel-real relationship because of the struggles Max has with letting even his wife see his burdens, and the child that rocked their relationship and their faith. Max was faithful to his wife together or apart, and she to him.

And of course all those scenes with Max looking like a wet dog were too much fun.

Galadon is also a great deal of fun. I liked his fragmented memories, his confusion about where he’s been since the war, and the way everyone back home reacted to his return. At the same time, I like that he’s not, by and large, the main focus, as his story and Kari’s have a lot in common.

Quote:

Galadon nodded.  “We’ll need to confer with my generals anyway, to ask about the local trouble with the gnolls before we go out blindly.  So we’ll get our answers either way.  But I beg of you: If they try to forcibly put me back on the throne, take me hostage and head north.”

And this had me just about dying laughing:

“What the heck is a paladin doing with a crowbar?” Starlenia blurted.
“Always be prepared,” the knight replied with no trace of humor.

I really liked that scene where Leighandra was talking to Starlenia about what each of them can do. It’s true that Leighandra isn’t contributing much in one sense—but she knows her role, is COMFORTABLE in it (wow, that’s huge), and is able to see big picture and small (again, without pride getting in the way. . . . I’m sensing a theme here. No wonder these feel so different from pretty much all the other books I read).

The trials for the seals have a number of interesting twists. The “collect them all” plot device is a familiar one, but I was still surprised at several points. Each one has a focus: some emphasize strength, some cleverness, some wisdom, and so on. And it really does take the whole team to pull this off.

And that tease for Irrathmore . . . I can’t wait to see what that world is like.

Overall, this is another excellent adventure, with a new set of amazing characters to follow. Given the end, it looks like Kari will be interacting with them a lot in the future, so I look forward to more great stories to come. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

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.

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.