Tag Archives: shapeshifters

The Red Winter (The Tapestry #5)

Title: The Red Winter

Author: Henry H. Neff

Series: The Tapestry #5

Having successfully defended Rowan from Prusias, the alliance is now ready to go on the offensive. Prusias, the seven-headed dragon/demon who claims rule of the world, must be defeated. Worse, the victory must come at the place that is the seat of his power. And always, in addition to Prusais’s menace, David, Max, and Mina must grapple with the mysterious Astaroth before his plans can come to fruition.

I can’t think of a more perfect cap to this startling and excellent series. Max, the Hound of Rowan, the son of the Celtic sun-god Lugh, is still discovering what his heritage means. Pursued by ruthless assassins that are actually his own clones, discovering new aspects to his power, and faced with impossible decisions, he may be Rowan’s great savior . . . or its destruction. David and Mia similarly uncover new depths of character, but my favorite has always been Max. Demigods that actually portray some fragment of the vastness and horror that an actual god might possess are rare in fiction, and Max has the unique challenge of integrating his humanity into his divinity, lest he become something worse than Prusias. “Never summon a god into the world,” he’s warned. And that warning is accurate.

I do wish I had reread the previous books before this one, because the story is both vast and sweeping as well as close, tying up a lot of the little hints and threads from previous books, allowing most everyone who survived this far to have their own little piece of the story (Bob and Mum are particularly touching). Connor surprised me, more than once. So did the vyes. The emotional highs and lows struck all the right notes, and there’s plenty of action and intrigue to move things along.

This has been a long journey that changed drastically along the way. From the humble beginnings of a boy attending a magical school, to the world-altering disaster that followed, to the covert rebellions, then open war, then beyond, this has been an absolutely amazing ride and cemented its place among the best of the best. Read them all in order (preferably in a row) to better appreciate the little clues and subtle details. I can’t wait to see what Henry H. Neff writes in the future. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Invisible Library (Invisible Library #1)

Title: The Invisible Library

Author: Genevieve Cogman

Series: Invisible Library #1

Irene is a Librarian for an unusual Library, one that exists outside time and space and worlds, in its own reality. Mostly she infiltrates alternate worlds and collects unique books for its collection. But her latest assignment reeks of secrets and politics, and may be rather more dangerous than she’s been told. She’s supposed to train a junior assistant, the book she’s looking for has already been stolen, and the Library’s greatest enemies also want what she’s after . . .

This was mostly fun, with a few places where I just had to roll my eyes. Fun stuff first. Irene is a very likeable lead. She tries hard to stay cool and in control even when the situation has exploded away from her. She’s aware of what being a leader entails, and she tries to be responsible to that ideal. Kai’s presence tends to exaggerate that in her, too, as she both wants and needs to be a good superior for him. I was particularly impressed that she refuses to bed him after his explicit invitation (although other aspects of that scene were part of the eye-rolling bits). It wouldn’t have been a good idea, but I can’t say I remember the last book where that actually stopped the characters.

The world she ends up on has a lot of steampunk with a dash of mad science. Mechanical creatures! Zeppelins! Victorian fashion sense! Also werewolves and vampires and Fae (who are creepy, dangerous, and strongly magical). And I really liked the detective she meets, and how he engages the mysteries before him with his own skills, even though he’s got no idea of most of what she’s caught up in.

I wasn’t all that fond of Kai, though. His character is all over the place (although to be fair, Irene notices this too and remarks on it). Once more of his secrets come out, some of his behavior makes even less sense.

And the few personal nits: why does Kai have to be devastatingly handsome, with perfect looks, perfect voice, etc? I’m getting tired of “perfect boyfriend” type characters. (Irene subverts this somewhat by falling for the detective instead of her trainee, which made me very happy.) And the scene where he invites her to bed involves the two of them comparing the amount of sexual experience they’ve had, which also makes me roll my eyes. For one, it absolutely doesn’t suit Kai, whose nature is order, whose firm commitment is to family no matter what, to be such a player he might have spawned half a hundred offspring without knowing it. And then just moved on. Because the family he’s so emotionally invested in apparently doesn’t include people he sleeps with and definitely doesn’t include himself as a possible father. Does this strike anyone else as a total betrayal of the character’s deepest beliefs? The alternative is that he’s lying about said experience, which I don’t really buy either, or he wouldn’t have been so casual about asking Irene. And the way the whole scene plays out feels really pointless, except to have both the characters bragging about how much sex they’ve had, as if that somehow makes them better people. It has nothing to do with the story.

Overall this was a pretty good adventure, and although things wrap up in one sense, the deeper threads point towards a series. I rate this book Recommended.

Black Dog Short Stories II (Black Dog #2.5)

Title: Black Dog Short Stories II

Author: Rachel Neumeier

Series: Black Dog #2.5

This collection of short stories expands on a few more pieces of the Black Dog universe. The book contains four short stories and a short essay on how witches, vampires, and black dogs all fit into the universe.

The first story, Mothers and Daughters (although the interior text had it titled Mothers and Sisters) is Keziah’s backstory. As might be expected, it explains where she grew up and how her sister got her scar, and how and why they went to Dimilioc. This is the only story set before both Black Dog and Pure Magic.

Unlikely Allies follows Ezekiel as he’s out on a mission to clear up some strays. Bank Job is an amusing story about Ethan and Thaddeus as they’re out on a routine cleanup that ends up rather sideways. And the last story, A Family Visit, has Justin finally heading out to visit his grandmother.

I like all these little glimpses into the various characters, particularly Ethan and Justin. Ethan’s been in a bad place for a while, but as this story shows, he’s got a lot of skills that the strength-worshipping black dog society may not find noticeable. I particularly liked his interactions with Thaddeus, who is not at all what Ethan expects him to be.

Justin, of course, is trying to get more answers about himself and his family. And he finds them. Sort of. But I suspect the conversation that’s hinted at the end is going to be the start of the next novel, and I wish that story had run longer to cover it, as this seems the sort of event that could be the first chapter of a novel.

All in all, if you’ve been following the Black Dog universe this is a good addition. If you haven’t, it might be better to start with one of the novels, as some of the short stories will otherwise spoil a few revelations. I rate this book Recommended.

Pure Magic (Black Dog #2)

Title: Pure Magic

Author: Rachel Neumeier

Series: Black Dog #2

Justin is wandering on a road trip while mourning the recent death of his mother. But an unexpected encounter with stray black dogs propels him into a terrifying world he never envisioned. Dimilioc offers him shelter, but they also aren’t very willing to let him refuse.

Natividad is growing used to life at Dimilioc, but she’s still stubbornly independent. And when she’s told to stay at home for her own safety, the order doesn’t go over well at all. She knows they need her help. Dimilioc’s enemies are multiplying. But when she takes matters into her own hands, everything falls apart . . .

I liked the first book a great deal, but I think I like this one even better. The beginning with Justin had me intrigued where this might be going, and when I found out, I had to laugh. The Pure are always, always girls . . . but he’s Pure and very definitely male. Even Ezekiel is thrown off-balance. And Justin, of course, who never, ever suspected he might be anything but ordinary, is finding the extremely violent black dogs a very hard sell.

I like how similar Justin is to Natividad, and yet how different. I like how NICE the two of them are, which is unfortunately not a trait I see often in characters. They’re both strong-willed, independent, but still gentle, compassionate, encouraging. And they might not be the ones ripping off heads or tearing out spines, but they’ve still got a lot of fight in them (and Natividad, at least, is pushing her gift into territories Dimilioc has never seen—although there are also hints it may not all be good).

This book picks up some of the troubles from the first book and widens the world yet again, as we finally meet some of those other black dog houses. It helps give the sense of how Dimilioc is rather different even from its own. And since not everything wrapped up by the end of this story, I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more of certain characters in the future.

All in all, this is an excellent sequel that doesn’t lose any steam. If you haven’t read the first book, this one is probably still readable, but you’ll spoil yourself on a ton of things, so go back and read Black Dog first. I rate this book Recommended.

Black Dog Short Stories (Black Dog #1.5)

Title: Black Dog Short Stories

Author: Rachel Neumeier

Series: Black Dog #1.5

Natividad wants to go Christmas shopping, but not with Keziah.

Miguel plots how he can rid Dimilioc of the black dog who thinks humans are mere servants.

Thaddeus and Grayson are on a mission to clean up strays, but Thaddeus hits an unexpected crisis of conscience.

Ezekiel has been the executioner for Thos for years, but what happens when Thos gives an order he doesn’t want to obey?

The first three of these four short stories are a direct followup to the events of Black Dog, where the last one is a prequel. I liked all four of them, although the last is probably my favorite. Since these are short stories, there isn’t a lot I can say without spoiling things. If you like the world of Black Dog, these are well worth a read. If you skip from the first novel to the second without reading this, you’ll miss a bit of what happened in between, but nothing major.

I rate this book Recommended.

Black Dog (Black Dog #1)

Title: Black Dog

Author: Rachel Neumeier

Series: Black Dog #1

Natividad and her brothers are on the run after the death of their parents, heading north to the one place that might—or might not—offer enough protection for them to survive. Dimilioc is home to the black dog clan that exiled their father. Natividad hopes its Master can be convinced. But Dimilioc is not what any of them expects . . .

I don’t want to say too much and spoil this. It was not at all the story I expected, but I loved it. Black dogs are superficially similar to werewolves (although they have their own name, moon-bound, for those who only shift at the full moon), but they have a curious relationship with their demonic shadows. The shadows turn them into black dogs with blazing eyes and an endless appetite for violence and destruction. That propensity pushes at them even in human form, making them surly and aggressive, and very sensitive to the nuances of dog behaviors. I really like the depth to the culture. Alejandro, Natividad’s older brother, is a black dog and provides a good window into how they think, and the points from Navitidad and Miguel (her human brother) underlines how their natures are just fundamentally different from a regular human.

And as black dogs are intrinsically violent, the story can get messy very quickly. Which amused me to no end. These are not nice fights between civilized creatures, but rather savage butchery where the goal is to rip off the enemy’s head or rip out his spine so he can’t shift to shake off the wounds. In other words, if you’re looking for fluffy happy innocent shapeshifters, this is not your book.

I liked the characters a lot too. Natividad is no physical powerhouse like her brother Alejandro, but she’s got magic and bravery and cleverness. Miguel, too, is much more than just a hanger-on, despite being fully human. He becomes as indispensable as his siblings. And the black dogs of Dimilioc are fascinating. Violent, absolutely, but possibly also creatures that can be reasoned with. Except they ARE black dogs, and Natividad is still figuring out what they will and won’t tolerate.

Overall this is a fast-paced read that totally sidesteps traditional urban fantasies about werewolves. The characters are strong, the world is unique, and I absolutely want to see where we go from here. I rate this book Recommended.

The Owl Keeper

Title: The Owl Keeper

Author: Christine Brodien-Jones

Max used to have a good life with his grandma, who taught him all about the silver owls and the prophecy that one day the Owl Keeper would overthrow the darkness with the help of a silver owl. But after his grandma dies, he contracts a strange disease that leaves him allergic to sunlight. Then the silver owl shows up. Max is infatuated with the owl, but the government is trying to exterminate them . . .

This book tries to blend fantasy with dystopia, and in my opinion usually fails. From the few dates given, we’re not quite 100 years out, yet some unexplained experiment with the weather split the moon in two (now THAT would have been a story) and generally devastated the natural seasonal cycles (this would make more sense if Earth’s rotation or orbit changed, not its weather). Due to the weather issues, the government is constructing huge domed cities for everyone to live in, thus abandoning the exterior world to the various disasters and monsters that have cropped up (or were created through genetic experiments).

On the other hand, we have a prophecy, glowing silver owls that can do magic, Destiny confirmed by birthmarks, an Absolute Darkness working for evil, etc.

Personally I think this should’ve stuck with the fantasy. It wouldn’t have been hard to turn most of the dystopian elements fantastic, whereas the dystopia really struggles with the fantasy.

For example, we are presumably on Earth (simply because nothing says otherwise), yet we have magical silver owls that have been around for hundreds of years, in addition to a prophecy that’s apparently well known enough that the government feels the need to rebroadcast slightly altered versions of it to trivialize it. The genetic mutations worked for me when it was Misshapens living in the forest or creatures who have presumably been under development for years . . . but then there is someone who materially transforms instantly after only one shot. Or how one bite of a loaded muffin is enough to paralyze normal brain function immediately, but can still be shaken off a very short time later. Or how falling asleep in conditions clearly conducive to freezing to death not only has them waking up without outside intervention, but without so much as frostbite to show for it.

So the science is falling over because it’s acting more like magic. The setting is also prone to annoying conveniences like a Frozen Zone being within walking distance of a more normally temperate town. Nothing was offered to explain this other than the weather related experiment from way back when.

I can forgive a shoddy setting for excellent characters. These aren’t. Rose introduces herself by being obnoxious and a liar, and the only reason I can think for Max bothering is because he has no one but the even-more-depressing housekeeper to talk to. Regardless, the fact that she’s such a liar makes it hard for me to swallow that she’s telling the truth later, just because she says she is (Max conveniently can’t verify anything that comes out of her mouth). So when she eventually starts to have problems, I found myself less than sympathetic.

Max is better, but not by much. He suffers from extreme stupidity. I can roll my eyes and move past the fact that he never once suspected his sinister guardian was working against him, but when he has the opportunity to throw away the device he now KNOWS is bad for him . . . and takes it WITH HIM . . . The plot doesn’t even try to explain that. Max just thinks he has no idea why he’s doing it. I don’t either. It’s a really poor way to build dramatic tension in the following scene so someone can fight him for it and threaten to stab him with it all over again.

I’m not even sure if the ending was meant to tie things up or lead into a sequel, as it could read either way. I don’t care, as I have zero desire to pick up another book. The worldbuilding has too many inconsistencies and the characters make me want to throw the book at the wall. I rate this book Not Recommended.