Tag Archives: shapeshifters

Hand and Talon (World of Kyrni #1)

Title: Hand and Talon

Author: Melonie Purcell

Series: World of Kyrni #1

Krea is a thief who just stole the wrong moneybag. But when she’s about to be captured, an unlikely intervention changes the course of her life. Her rescuer, Sorin, is an old caller. He tells her about the kryni, the shapeshifters, and insists she is one—and that she needs to be linked up with a caller before her first shift or she will lose her humanity forever. Krea doesn’t agree with him, but they journey together towards the capital in hopes of finding help for her. But unexpected dangers dog their journey, and what seemed to be relatively simple keeps getting more complicated . . .

The description of shapeshifters who need callers to stay human admittedly gave me pause, because I was expecting something along the lines of a cheap hook for a romance. Thankfully, this is nothing like that—and Sorin makes a few vehement points about interbreeding totally not being a thing, so at least the story quickly loses any suspicion that this is going to go in a sketchy direction.

I really liked Sorin. He’s old and grumpy and emotionally closed-off, especially to Krea, because of some things that went on in his past. He tries to do his best by her, but realizes time and again he’s unconsciously holding back.

Krea, for her part, isn’t taking anything for granted. (Actually, she’s probably taking everything anyone else took for granted.) She is a thief, through and through, and her kleptomaniac tendencies often get her far more than she bargained for. The knife is especially good. What initially looked like an amazing find becomes something she can’t even give away, much as she wants to.

And Dane plays off Krea perfectly. They’re both thieves, but their different ages and abilities lead to squabbles more often than solidarity.

All in all this was a strong story. It leaves off with a clear hook for a sequel, which I will be eagerly anticipating. I rate this book Recommended.

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Freaks & Other Family (Necromancer)

Title: Freaks & Other Family

Author: Lish McBride

Series: Necromancer (set after book 2)

This is a collection of two stories. It follows the many of the characters from the Necromancer universe, but the stories don’t require you to have read them (although they will spoil some things).

You Make Me Feel So Young – An undercover mission to investigate a suspicious organization at their black-tie dinner turns crazy. It was pretty easy to see where this was going, but still fun. Sam still manages to astound those who think he ought to know better with his almost-total ignorance about magical things.

Halfway Through the Wood – Ramon has had some difficulty keeping up with family events after being turned into a were-bear. But when his abuela has a birthday party, he’s no longer able to make excuses. This is definitely the stronger of the two stories, and I like the opportunity to see a bit more of Ramon, his family, and how he’s dealing (or not) with what happened to him. It’s the little things, like massive amounts of strength or trying not to shapeshift under stress, that worry him.

Overall this is a nice treat for fans of the Necromancer books, especially those who liked Ramon. I rate this Recommended.

Frogkisser!

Title: Frogkisser!

Author: Garth Nix

Princess Anya wishes she could simply be left alone to read. She’d like to study sorcery, but her stepstepfather, who is probably an evil sorcerer, keeps interfering. Between rescuing her sister’s suitors after they’ve been transformed into frogs to keeping the castle running, Anya has to do most of the odd jobs herself. Then she finds herself quite unwillingly going on a Quest, because if she can’t get away from her stepstepfather, he’ll do away with her.

This is a light and fast story that parodies quite a lot about ordinary fantasy stories. The basic structure, of course, is highly traditional: evil stepparent (or in this case, stepstep parent) is planning to take over the kingdom, which means getting rid of the legitimate heirs. But the story likes to play around, with associations for robbers, and the perpetual threat of a sorcerer turning you into something (almost always a frog).

I did love the dogs. Ardent is such a puppy: eager, energetic, clumsy, hungry. And good at making himself cute when he wants something or is in trouble. He wants to be heroic, but at the same time he keeps getting distracted on the Quest by conveniently placed bushes and such. He was easily my favorite part.

I suppose the rest of the parody fell flatter than it should because even though the tropes it’s parodying do exist, the parodies themselves have become tropes too. The Robin Hood-esque robbers. The female wizard who gets offended that Anya expected a male with a big white beard (honestly, these days I see so many female magic-users in fiction it’s hard to argue there’s a bias at all). Even taking a familiar story and explaining it’s something completely different. None of it is bad, but I didn’t find it more than mildly amusing at best.

Overall, this is still a pretty good read, though not one I see myself revisiting. 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.

Serpents Rising (Eve of Redemption #3)

Title: Serpents Rising

Author: Joe Jackson

Series: Eve of Redemption #3

Karian Vanador has spent her life hunting demons–but the more she’s learned about her Order’s involvement with the syrinthians, the more she’s convinced they don’t know enough about the foes they’ve been fighting for hundreds of years. Eli told her of a promise made to the syrinthain high priestess to go to the underworld to rescue her daughter, a promise still unfulfilled. Kari intends to honor it. If, that is, she can figure out a way to get to the underworld, find the one person she’s looking for, and get back without getting killed. Fighting demons is one thing, but invading their own territory is quite another . . .

This picks immediately after White Serpent, Black Dragon. Kari’s still reeling from everything that happened, but that’s part of what fuels her determination to honor the promise made to a dying woman to rescue her daughter. The Order just doesn’t know enough about the demons to be anything more than a stopgap. Kari is determined to change that. People can go and come back from the underworld, even a demonhunter, so it has to be possible.

It takes a while to get into the actual underworld, but it doesn’t feel slow to me. Kari is appropriately cautious about the whole endeavor. She’s aware not only of how much she’s risking but also how much she stands to gain. And even researching how to get there provides a lot of fascinating information. For example, this isn’t going to be a stereotypical fire-and-brimstone underworld, or something in a big underground cave system.

I liked how the plot keeps twisting around. Getting a syrinthian girl away from a demon king that Kari has already offended won’t be easy. Kari’s got a different group of companions yet again. Some, like Uldriana, keep her guessing. Uldriana in particular became a favorite not just of this book but of the entire series. She has such a big impact, and such inner strength. I like how these characters feel so real, so well-defined, so that when the surprises come up I’m laughing or crying along with the rest of them.

I can’t really talk about my favorite parts without spoiling something crucial, so I’ll just say this was an amazing book and possibly my favorite of the series so far (it’s only hard to choose because they’ve all been really good). I rate this book Highly Recommended.

White Serpent, Black Dragon (Eve of Redemption #2)

Title: White Serpent, Black Dragon

Author: Joe Jackson

Series: Eve of Redemption #2

A serial killer is stalking the streets of Barcon, and the Order has been approached for help by none other than Kaelin Black, Barcon’s infamous Earl. Since the killings might be demonic in origin, Karian goes to investigate. But nothing about this case is simple. What is going on with the Lord Black? Is he innocent, as he claims, of the long list of crimes everyone suspects of him? What has the Order–and its last Avatar of Vengeance–been doing behind everyone’s backs?
And what do the demons stand to gain from this killing spree?

Set three years after the end of the first book, this one finds Karian in a much different place. Now married and a mother, she’s taken on a more administrative job to allow her to fulfill those roles more effectively. But a complicated problem calls for a high-ranking hunter, and it doesn’t take long for Karian to get back to her original job.

This, like the first book, isn’t as black-and-white as things first appear. Karian has to reevaluate her own beliefs often, and her initial disdain of the previous Avatar of Vengeance’s underhand methods comes against the fact that the real world isn’t nearly as simple as she thought. The mystery has a number of surprising twists, too, and it will take more than just Karian to untangle it.

I liked the fact that Kari’s healing from her childhood abuse is an ongoing thing. One piece that worried me about the first book’s resolution to that was that it felt like a one-and-done event, when she’s had years of trauma. Thankfully, that was more of a turning point than a total healing. Kari still struggles, but she’s moved past the place where it owns her. I also liked that she finds unexpected common ground in this with someone else, and how it helps the both of them to be able to support each other.

I also like that we’re getting introduced to more people outside the Order. And I REALLY like that there are so many different kinds of people, animals, and monsters that show up…. gnolls, werewolves, griffons, to name a few of my favorites. Or, as Eli puts it:

“So we’ve got assassins, demons, necromancers, and werewolves all involved here,” Eli said. He and Kari were headed toward the graveyard to see if they could find any other clues about whether the necromancer might be mixed up with the succubus. “Now we just need a vampire to show up, and we’ll have a nice little miniature apocalypse.”

All in all, this is a great continuation of an excellent first book. Start with Salvation’s Dawn, but definitely read this one next! I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Subjugation (Subjugation #1)

Title: Subjugation

Author: James Galloway

Series: Subjugation #1

Humans had dreamed of alien contact, but nobody expected the Faey to show up one day in a gigantic battleship, demanding Earth surrender or be annihilated. These blue-skinned humanoids then solidified the subjugation by using their telepathy to root out and crush any resistance. But Jason Fox refuses to surrender. His plan to do just well enough in school to avoid forced labor on the farms and then wash out to a quiet career comes to a screeching halt when he captures the interest of one of the Faey Marines stationed in his town. She wants him, and she won’t take no for an answer. Soon his little resistance snowballs into a far bigger fight than he ever imagined.

I’m really torn on this book. On the one hand, I love the detailed descriptions of alien tech. The ideas behind it, how it fits together, and how Jason scrapes by with obsolete components built to do something outside the original specs is a lot of fun. The plasma-based technology is interesting, and some of my favorite parts are where the story spends a page or more simply breaking down how the newest gadget works. Add to that the challenge of building a habitable base in an urban wilderness of abandoned towns, or the various prank wars Jason initiates, or the eventual real war that happens despite everything, and there’s a lot of fun to be had.

And the twist about human telepaths was really good.

On the other hand, there’s just no way I buy the “romantic” relationships. The Faey are a female-dominated society whose women are a teenage boy’s wildest dream come true: girls whose thoughts are dominated by sex, all have great bodies, and don’t mind sleeping around. All. The. Time. In fact the book gets pretty fervent in its defense of why it’s totally okay for Jason to be true loves with one Faey female but bedding anyone else he finds attractive. And his partner equally expects to be able to sleep around herself.

I don’t buy the lack of jealousy (he rationalizes the situation over and over to himself, but since when was jealousy rational?), or on the flip side, the way his roaming eye isn’t degrading his bond with his true love. I don’t see anything deep in his relationship with the woman he gets involved with. It’s a relationship that starts with her not honoring his “no,” and even though that drives him wild, once he ends up sleeping with her they’re golden. I could go on, but it boils down to Sex Makes Everything Better just being something that ought to work out better in theory than in practice.

(For a great counter-example, see Teckla by Steven Brust, where Vlad and his wife love each other but have irreconcilable political differences. And this is not because I think everything ought to end unhappily, but because it highlights the hard truth that holding to convictions can cost you, and which ones you choose to hold on to determine what has to be sacrificed).

Overall, whether or not you like this is going to depend on two things: if you like getting a lot of details about pretty much everything, and if you don’t mind or enjoy the way all the sex gets presented. I rate this book Neutral.