Tag Archives: dragons

The Cult of Unicorns (Penny White #2)

Title: The Cult of Unicorns

Author: Chrys Cymri

Series: Penny White #2

Penny is balancing a life equal parts fantastic and mundane. She has a gryphon and a snail shark in her house, and is a liaison to a parallel world of dragons and other mythical creatures, but she’s also a small-town vicar. And that means sermons, baptisms, weddings, and putting up with an enormous list of petty annoyances. But people have been turning up dead, and the wounds look like they could be from unicorns . . .

This is as crazy and as funny as the first book. Penny mostly deals with stubborn or completely clueless people in her role as vicar, which demands a lot of patience. I like how several characters challenge her on her habit of stretching the truth. In some cases she might be justified, but most of the time it’s just trying to avoid trouble, and even though she doesn’t agree with them I like seeing her called out on it. Penny tends to go for the solution that doesn’t ruffle feathers, when everyone would probably be better off if she instead offered a bit of truth.

And Morey has cemented himself as my favorite character. He’s blisteringly intelligent, but he’s also a gryphon. Which means his perspective on things like hunting is that of a predator. He and Penny have a much better relationship now, but they still snip at each other.

The wedding was also hysterical. I get a definite vibe of “details have been altered but story is true” from so many of these encounters.

I am not fond of the heavy use of alcohol, and how basically everyone (at least in Penny’s circle) tries to drink their problems away. Penny almost reads like a functional alcoholic.

Overall, though, this is a fun story that tackles urban fantasy from the direction of someone of faith. It stands out for the authenticity of the highs and lows of trying to live out that faith, and for the unusual approach. I rate this book Recommended.

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The Temptation of Dragons (Penny White #1)

Title: The Temptation of Dragons

Author: Chrys Cymri

Series: Penny White #1

Penny White is a vicar at a tiny little church in England. When she stumbles across a dragon that’s been hit by a car, she learns about a parallel world full of mythological creatures that touches our own. Penny is eager to learn all she can, but she still has a church to pastor, a possibly-murder mystery to investigate, and one man and one dragon competing for her attention . . .

This was sheer fun. Obviously written by someone intimately familiar with the various hazards and hardships of life in the ministry, Penny’s struggles as vicar were some of the funniest parts of the book. I really like that she has an active relationship with God. She’s not just someone who prays, but someone who sees answers to prayer.

As the notes rose and fell, I wondered whether God were giving me a message, or just having a good laugh at my expense. In my experience, it’s often difficult to distinguish between the two.

And of course, there’s plenty of fantasy, from dragons and unicorns to were-beasts and vampires. Also hysterical is that many of these intelligent beings have converted to various religions, and Penny mostly deals with members of the Christian church in the same location as hers but on the other side, which is a sister church. So when she’s not being awed by REAL LIVE DRAGONS she’s having theological debates with the cat-sized gryphon who took up residence in her home. Who is a stickler for a literal reading of the Bible, in contrast to her more liberal positions.

As I looked around the assorted faces – human, dragon, unicorn, vampire, and some for which I didn’t have names – I realised that the interview process had started. I was now going to have to mingle, answer the same questions time and again, and above all be friendly and approachable. It was time for Trial by Buffet.

I am entirely on Morey’s side about James, Penny’s brother, though. His behavior is appalling and Penny, in the name of charity, continues to enable him. Setting some rules or withholding some privileges when he misbehaves shouldn’t be such a problem. Frankly I think she’s not doing him any favors by allowing him to get away with everything.

Overall, this was just a ton of fun. I had a few theological quibbles, but the fact that this is an excellent fantasy starring Christians who are serious about their faith makes those a really minor point (and the arguments between Penny and Morey demonstrate that believers can be on the same team without agreeing on every little thing). And come on, there’s even a reference to Zoroastrians. I’m less fond of the love triangle angle, especially given that one of the love interests is a dragon (REALLY do not want to know how all these mixed-species “marriages” are going to work when some of them have vastly different physiology). But I’m really looking forward to the sequel. I rate this book Recommended.

Radiation (Of Cats and Dragons #2)

Title: Radiation

Author: Carol E. Leever and Camilla Ochlan

Series: Of Cats and Dragons #2

Omen tried to stay out of trouble. Really. But when he and Tormy get the chance, he begs for a quest–and not just any quest, but something huge and important that only he can complete. So Etar, his divine brother, gives him one. Now Omen must hunt down another divine sibling in a world utterly desolate . . .

I liked the second book even better than the first. We get a lot more backstory on Omen, Omen’s family, and Templar. I love how the history is so rich that every story brings questions about a dozen more details. I never thought there was a reason behind the names in Omen’s family, and now I want to see a story about his parents since their lives were at least as interesting as his. And ouch, poor Templar. No wonder he’s always a bit on edge. Although it hasn’t stopped his sense of humor.

The friendship between Omen and Templar continues to be one of my favorite parts, even though in this book it took something of a backseat to Omen’s “epic quest” and an extended adventure for Lilyth, Omen’s sister. Templar and Omen arguing about who exactly is the bad influence on whom was hysterical, as was Templar’s succinct summation of Omen’s quest (quote below review for those wanting to avoid spoilers).

And the new characters were all compelling. I really liked Etar, a younger god that is more or less Omen’s brother. Kyr is just adorable despite his circumstances (and I have to wonder how much Tyrin will be able to influence him, since Tyrin is basically Trouble-capital-T). Tyrin is of course hysterical, especially the “identical twins” routine, or the way he takes things too literally.

Overall this series continues to improve everything I liked about the first book, and I can’t wait for a third. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Templar’s take on the quest:

“So basically what you’re saying is,” Templar stated when Omen had finished, “you wandered into an empty wasteland, got rained on, and came home. And that’s what you call epic?”

Darkstalker (Wings of Fire: Legends #1)

Title: Darkstalker

Author: Tui T. Sutherland

Series: Wings of Fire: Legends #1

This is the story of Arctic and Foeslayer, and how they fell in love, and ended up starting a war. And it’s the story of their son, the first animus Nightwing, Darkstalker, who will leave his own legacy.

Clearsight is a seer much more accurate than any of the usual Nightwings. She knows all about Darkstalker’s ominous destiny. But can she save him, or will the future she tries for escape from her claws?

Fathom never asked to be an animus. It’s a rare power for a Seawing, and one he learns too late has its own price.

I’ve only read up through Escaping Peril, which gave plenty of context to the things that happen in this book. I don’t know that it’s strictly necessary to have started the second set of five books in Wings of Fire, but it certainly changes how you’d approach it, because Darkstalker’s fate gets some attention there.

Despite that, Darkstalker himself can command some sympathy. The romance between his parents didn’t end in a happily-ever-after, but something more like an unending nightmare. Especially for Darkstalker, who can read minds, or Whiteout, who is a bit different in the head. On the other hand, the only dragon who cares enough for Darkstalker to challenge his evil choices is Clearsight, and Darkstalker would rather look at how he benefits rather than how other dragons get hurt, and try to convince Clearsight she’s wrong.

Fathom’s story is also an interesting layer to the whole mess. Darkstalker thinks he’s being kind, trying to draw Fathom past the trauma, but Fathom can’t help but take what happened as a warning against animus magic. And Darkstalker’s profligate use can’t help but worry him.

Yet for all the tragedy, there’s still quite a lot of humor. Like the scavengers (humans), who the dragons view as interesting pets but never more than animals. Or Clearsight’s best friend, who absolutely refuses to let Clearsight tell her how things work out for the various dragons she wants to date.

Overall, this is a good addition to the lore, though possibly one better appreciated after seeing in the later series some of the reverberations of the decisions made here. I rate this book Recommended.

The Lone Dragon Knight (The Dragon Knight #1)

Title: The Lone Dragon Knight

Author: D. C. Clemens

Series: The Dragon Knight #1

Mercer has no memory of his past, and his present is a life lived on someone else’s terms: first as an experimental subject, then sold as a criminal enforcer. When he frees himself, he finds a blade that connects him to a dragon from another world and grants him some of that dragon’s powers. Now that he has the means, he aims to get revenge on those who stole everything from him.

This was decent, but it fell a little too flat for me. The action is brisk. Even when the plot winds through some side missions, Mercer is still active, learning, growing. And the magic system is interesting, although it does feel a bit one-sided for now (nobody ever said what the dragon gets out of all this, although there is the sense that he’s biding his time for some major wreckage to come).

Where I kept getting knocked out of the story was with the characters. Mercer isn’t very introspective when he’s under mind-control spells. That’s fine. He doesn’t have to be very introspective out of them, either, but I never really got why he wanted revenge so badly. He doesn’t seem like the cold and calculating type, and he’s not blazing with anger. It’s just kind of there as though it’s too obvious to have to show at all. With no past, he could just as easily have said “There’s no way I’m getting caught up in THAT again,” and gone somewhere remote to start over. There’s not much self-discovery, and he doesn’t feel like he’s remaking himself either, so with few exceptions I never felt like he had much of a personality.

Then there’s the female mercenary. Despite being a professional, despite knowing absolutely nothing about him outside his work on this one case, despite the fact that he’s got a fiend’s tail bound to his arm (which ought to indicate something, since corruption doesn’t appear to be a completely foreign concept), she offers to sleep with him as a way of topping off his pay, because she doesn’t think he’s being rewarded appropriately. I’m trying to figure out why this otherwise sensible woman wants to act like a whore. Especially since getting pregnant is likely to suspend her career.

I was somewhat impressed by Mercer refusing another character’s offer to bed him, though again, I find it very strange that women are so eager to offer sex to someone like him when he’s not charming or charismatic or going out of his way to encourage them.

Overall I might read the second book if I sign up for Kindle Unlimited, but this is more of a rental than a buy right now. I rate this book Neutral.

Content warning: rape scene near the beginning

The Hero and the Crown (Damar #2)

Title: The Hero and the Crown

Author: Robin McKinley

Series: Damar #2

Aerin is the king’s daughter, but that doesn’t mean much to a people who are half-convinced her mother witched her father. An awkward, plain, Giftless princess who tries to hide in the shadows, Aerin is acutely aware of her shortcomings. But her persistence in odd hobbies reaps unexpected dividends when she discovers an ointment to protect herself from dragonfire, and volunteers herself to slay dragons. Small, nasty, vermin dragons, which is a job with as much glory as hunting rats. Then the real trouble arrives . . .

I’ve liked this book a lot ever since childhood, although now, rereading it again, I can see things that just don’t seem to hang together as well. What exactly draws the cats and dogs to Aerin’s side? They just show up, and suddenly they’re allies. And the evil villain is brought up and disposed very quickly, so he never really feels like much of a threat, more of an aside to the actual plot. He doesn’t force Aerin to come to grips with any of the issues she’s been struggling with, or serve any kind of thematic climax. He’s just there. Which is kind of funny considering he’s supposed to be mega-threatening.

And it’s both puzzling and annoying that Aerin sleeps with Luthe when she does, because she is highly conscious of her duty as a princess, and that sort of thing tends to have severe repercussions on the marriageability of princesses (and depending on how soon she and Tor had a child, could cast serious doubt on the legitimacy of the heir. Which, given Aerin’s own precarious position, doesn’t seem like her to wish upon another). And it’s not very fair to Tor. The story would have worked equally well if she’d just liked Luthe, and gone back to him after Tor died.

But for all that, the story is still a good one. Aerin’s a princess without the usual princess trappings. She gets stuck with much of the duties but few of the benefits. What she earns, she earns through study and experimentation and hard work, and her victories are as likely to grant her sympathy as acclaim. Because while dragons may need slaying, no one’s overly keen on glorifying the butchery. And the courtiers turn up their noses at those who manage the grunt work, dragons or no. Aerin spends most of the book sick with one thing or another, and being a wallflower, so her eventual victories feel like great triumphs.

So Aerin is very human, and relateable. She befriends a horse, defends her country from dragons great and small, and in the end finds a place for herself, even if it’s not going to be entirely comfortable.

Overall this is a good read. The later portion tends to feel a bit dreamy because so much is happening that doesn’t quite make sense, and there’s bits of the mythic creeping in about the edges. I rate this book 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.