Tag Archives: fantasy

The Door to the Lost

Title: The Door to the Lost

Author: Jaleigh Johnson

Two years ago, the magical gate that led to the world of Vora blew up, scattering magic everywhere. And now magic itself is broken, unreliable, distrusted. Rook and Drift have been scrounging for a living since then, bartering Rook’s ability to open magical doors to anywhere for cash. But when she opens a door she never intended, and a gigantic fox slips through, her life will change drastically . . .

I adored this. In a weird way, it’s an anti-dystopia: the harsh, desperate, oppressive times we start out in gradually come to light as not actually as bad as Rook always assumed. That not everyone outside of the band of magical children is a horrible person just waiting to turn them in. The world’s broken magic makes an interesting backdrop. All sorts of things went sideways thanks to that.

The characters are so much fun. Rook and Drift are two of the last people who had come through the gate before it exploded, along with a host of other children. Unfortunately, since the explosion wiped out their memories, they have no more idea than anyone else why everything went down. I love the tight friendship between the two of them. Both of them struggle with mistaken assumptions, both fear that their commitment isn’t mutual, and both of them realize that their friendship means more to them than anything else.

Fox is amazing. He’s a gigantic fox that Rook initially mistakes for a monster, and he certainly has several interesting abilities (shadow foxes!). Even though he doesn’t say much, I love how he worms his way into Rook’s heart.

Overall this is a complete story, but I do hope for more in this world because it was such a charming stay. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

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The Isolator: The Stinger (Isolator #4)

Title: The Isolator: The Stinger

Author: Reki Kawahara

Series: Isolator #4

Still reeling from the aftermath of his previous battle, Minoru is determined to improve so that the people around him won’t be hurt. But the newest Ruby Eye proves a huge challenge—someone who attacks Jet and Ruby Eyes alike, and has a more dangerous ability than anyone they’ve met so far.

I liked this, but it feels like a big step back from the previous books.

The biggest issue is that it feels like more of the same. The new facet to Minoru’s abilities is immediately overshadowed by the Stinger’s attack, and the story never really gets back to it except to prevent him from trying this with someone else. Although we get a lot more insight into Liquidizer and Trancer, there still isn’t much about the Syndicate’s real goals. And it’s never clear if the Stinger is even human, much less what his actual abilities are.

I’m also really frustrated with turning the Professor into the latest girl in love with Minoru. For starters, she’s ten. And even if she wasn’t ten, she’s still presented as someone who has no handle on emotions, just super-smarts for logic. So the whole bit where she’s playing “little sister” comes off as creepy, like she’s aping the trope in an attempt to figure it out and make Minoru more attached to her. I also completely fail to see what she sees in Minoru other than a mystery she can’t solve, as his direct interactions with her are (as Suu accurately identified) basically ignoring the person in favor of the ability.

The fight scenes are still a lot of fun. I’m always up for more of Divider’s random sword skills, or Trancer’s clever use of water phase changes. And the fact that THIS enemy is targeting both sides leads to some initial misunderstandings followed by unlikely teamwork. I really liked seeing that Minoru’s big stand against Liquidizer in the last book actually shook her up enough to seriously consider his words.

And I love the science, especially this little gem in the author’s note afterwards:

To sum it up, weak forces are carried by elementary particles called weak bosons, strong forces are controlled by gluons, electromagnetic forces are what make giant robots move and stuff, and gravity is what makes them fall when they’re defeated in battle.

Overall, I really hope the next book has more progress on some of the bigger mysteries. I’m still enjoying the series but I miss the way the earlier volumes did so much more to expand the overall world. I rate this book Recommended.

The Isolator: The Trancer (Isolator #3)

Title: The Isolator: The Trancer

Author: Reki Kawahara

Series: Isolator #3

Minoru never thought his protective shell abilities could be so useful. But its incredible impenetrability combined with his newly-discovered ability to cover more than just himself would make it the perfect weapon . . . if he could actually recreate the part where he can protect another person. The Ruby Eyes won’t wait for him to figure it out, though. This time, their enemies are a few steps ahead.

I have to admit I really enjoyed Yumiko’s abrasive personality coming back to bite her, as Minoru can’t figure out how to include her within his shell again. Instead, as his interactions with Suu shows, he’s more comfortable (and “comfortable” is really stretching it) with someone who’s equally afraid of him. And he can work with Suu because she doesn’t make it personal, and goes out of her way to minimize the friction between the two of them.

I also love what happens with Minoru’s developing powers. He’s figured out more about it than someone with a literal power of super-intelligence. The revelation at the climax was especially good. And now that he knows, now that he has more flexibility with how he can use his power, there are so many places the story can go.

We don’t get as much on the Ruby Eyes this time around, but we do get an interesting new set of powers, and some very intelligent ways to use them. I particularly liked how Liquidizer got around Minoru’s invincibility. He’s starting to trip up more and more on the fact that he’s basically a regular kid thrown into a high-stakes arena he has no idea how to navigate. Just because nothing can get THROUGH his shield doesn’t mean he’s actually safe if he doesn’t use his head.

Overall, this one kicks up another gear. Although I’m still not fond of the more typical “we’re totally not in love” hijinks, I liked that this volume pushes forward so much more for the characters and the overarching plot. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Conspiracy of Unicorns (Fantasy & Forensics #9)

Title: The Conspiracy of Unicorns

Author: Michael Angel

Series: Fantasy & Forensics #9

Dayna has a plan to pay off her ludicrous debts, but she’s running short on time, and even magic may not be enough to bridge the gaps. She needs to figure out a get rich quick scheme fast. But even as she’s scrambling to make ends meet, she’s trying to keep the bigger problems in mind. The war against the Dark grows ever closer, she’s still hunting for allies—and who better than a council of wizards? If she can find them. And back home in LA, her department is under intense scrutiny by Internal Affairs, which bothers Dayna about as much as it bothers Bob McClatchy. They’ve both got things they’d rather keep off the books . . .

I will never get over how hard these books make me laugh.

“Because that is what ‘forensics’ is all about,” her son informed her. “Poking around with dead things’ innards is what she does to draw in her magic power.”
Lord Quinton couldn’t contain himself any longer. “Blast it, you mean like…necromancy?”
The younger Quinton paused for a moment. “From what I understand, it’s very similar.”

This time around, as evidenced by the cover and the title, we get unicorns! One thing I really like about this book is how deliberately it subverts expectations. Unicorns are typically portrayed as gentle, as living in someplace warm and grassy, as really magical. Well, the last is still true, at least. Here, the unicorns live in a cold, barren wasteland, and if you remember the fayleene, you may already have a pretty good idea how this is going to go.

Dayna’s problem isn’t finding SUSPECTS for her locked room mystery. It’s finding how, which will tell her who. For instance, after discovering the body, we get this little gem:

“It’s not my fault that Dekanos didn’t die when he should have!” Windkey flared. Then, as if thinking better of it, he turned and spoke to me. “That sounded a trifle inconsiderate.”

And back on the home front, things finally come to a head with Bob McClatchy—in a way I never saw coming. (Well, THIS should make book 10 interesting.) I get the feeling it’s not quite over yet, despite how it worked out.

Overall this is another wild ride, with several twists that once more change the face of the game. I can’t wait to see where we go from here. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

A Warrant of Wyverns (Fantasy & Forensics #8)

Title: A Warrant of Wyverns

Author: Michael Angel

Series: Fantasy & Forensics #8

This time around, Dayna needs to follow up on an older mystery—who, or what, killed the massive flock of wyverns she previously found in a haunted city? But the answers only lead to more questions, and she’s running out of time to find the truth. Not to mention the debts she owes for the Order of the Weasel are being called due, and her life back in LA is also falling apart . . .

On reflection, I’m kind of surprised it took Dayna’s neighbors this long to start complaining about all the fun and games she’s been bringing back to her house. But on the other hand, this is yet another hilarious layer of petty sniping piling on top of her ‘trying to save both worlds’ mission. (And if they thought she was bad NOW, the end of the book must have them pulling out hair.)

And the bit where Alanzo and Fitzwilliam are having their little competition is also really funny. I do hope Alanzo gets to see Andeluvia soon, as I’m having fun imagining his reactions.

Wyverns have been a bit of a staple for the series so far, but this is the first book that really digs into them. We finally get to see a bit of their history, and how they ought to behave. The other history she learns is equally fascinating, as it provides some tantalizing clues about the origin of several of the Andeluvian races.

Back in LA, things are still deteriorating between Dayna and Bob McClatchy, but she’s far more worried about Greyson Archer and Damon Harrison, the two “security” personnel he’s hired. And of the two, Damon’s inhuman strength and boundless cruelty worry her more. She needs evidence to confront him in the human realm, and that hasn’t been easy to obtain.

Overall this is another excellent story. It ties up some old mysteries, introduces some new ones, and continues the epic of the old and new wars against the Dark. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Trafficking in Demons (Fantasy & Forensics #7)

Title: Trafficking in Demons

Author: Michael Angel

Series: Fantasy & Forensics #7

Dayna’s got a new case back in LA that’s unsettling in more ways than one. The victim had a gruesome death, magic may be involved, and certain clues are pointing straight at old enemies. But in Andeluvia, she’s facing something even worse: she’s been unanimously voted the Primrose Lady of Spring Beauty for the Spring Tournament.

For all that it seems to start off as the most depressing book, this one is also the funniest.

Oh, this is just great, I thought. This whole pity party is starting to feel like the opening chapters of a Russian novel.

I am still laughing way too hard at that one (and shuddering at my memories of Crime and Punishment). Or take this:

“That’s all very well and good,” I allowed. “But it does throw a monkey wrench into one of our plans.”
Shaw turned his head and gave me a curious look. “Thy people fashion monkeys into wrenches?”
“I sincerely doubt that,” Galen corrected him. “Dayna undoubtedly means that monkeys in her world use simple hand tools.”

Or Dayna’s conversation with Liam after he investigated the scene of the crime. And pretty much everything related to the Spring Tournament.

Overall, this continues advancing the epic fantasy side of the plot with some darker directions—demons who can possess people make formidable enemies, particularly as Dayna’s two lives grow uncomfortably close. But it’s impossible to call this a grim book, as the character interactions remain comedy gold. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Assault in the Wizard Degree (Fantasy & Forensics #6)

Title: Assault in the Wizard Degree

Author: Michael Angel

Series: Fantasy & Forensics #6

Zenos has yet another round of troubling predictions. Dayna’s inclined to trust him, since everything he’s said has come true, in a roundabout way. But before she can delve too deeply into his words, she’s summoned to the land of the centaurs to solve a mystery. Someone desecrated a ceremony, and what at first appears to be a straightforward request starts unraveling into a more serious concern . . .

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it yet, but I really like how prophecy is treated throughout this series. Zenos in the first book comes across almost more for laughs—the crazy prophet spouting doom and gloom. Except he’s right, and Dayna’s figured out that you ignore him at your own peril.

Zenos sighed. “What we soothsayers say is always listened to with a jaundiced ear. No one will pay you for the truth, you know. People only pay to hear what they want to hear. It’s why so many members of my profession are considered frauds.”

And this question takes centerpoint in the book. Whether it’s the hilarious tapestry (aka medieval comic book) depicting the battle against the Nocta or the question of who ate the sacred honey cake, and why, the story portrays some of how and why truth gets discarded. Truth may be opaque, or uncomfortable, or a lie has more to gain. Or as with Rikka’s inability to read, the truth was unknown on Andeluvia.

But if that sounds too serious, rest assured this book is also PACKED with the kind of cultural misunderstandings that left me laughing out loud. Like the coffee scene, where Galen says “I believe that its purpose is to allow the humans to weed out the weak.” (Shaw, of course, is in favor. Which is not a compliment.)

Dayna’s been with a centaur this whole time, but she really doesn’t understand much about their culture. Galen is something of an outlier within his own species, as he prefers magic, which his father forbade, over the strength of arms most centaurs consider paramount. I like the Viking/Western feel to the centaur’s town, and how their code is more complex than it first appears.

Rikka is so much fun. We finally get to see Galen’s family, and his sister evokes unexpected parallels with Hollyhock for Dayna. And Dayna is determined not to let another Hollyhock situation unfold in front of her. I love how real all of these characters are: strong, yet broken, with the kinds of quirks that make them instantly recognizable.

On the home front, things are heating up in the unofficial war between Dayna and Bob McClatchy. He’s hired a security company to protect him—and they are very much not Dayna’s friends. They’re willing to make this about more than just her, which Bob for all his faults never did.

Overall this is another excellent book in the series. The stakes keep ramping up, but unlike book 3 there’s more of a happy ending. At least in Andeluvia. I rate this book Highly Recommended.