Author: C. G. Cooper
Series: Chronicles of Benjamin Dragon #1
Benjamin Dragon has a lot going on in his life. He’s been moved up two grades, which makes him the youngest, smallest person in his classes, his family moves all the time, so he has a hard time making friends, and now weird things are happening around him. He doesn’t know why or how they’re happening. But it’s going to change everything . . .
This is aimed a bit younger than I usually read, but it’s still a solid book. I liked how Benjamin has a hard time figuring out people, so he uses his powers of observation to try to get a handle on their body language instead. I liked his quiet suspicion of things that seem too good to be true, and how he doesn’t just go along with everything. He knows when something’s up, even if he hasn’t quite figured out what it is or how he wants to respond to it.
I’m less fond of the way the power is split up. Three areas, and one of those is “everything else”? That just feels way too sloppy. And of course the “everything else” bucket has a name like destructors—and here I was expecting it to be a disintegrating-matter type of ability, but in reality it’s more just telekinesis. (For a good example of psychic powers split into 3 major buckets with various wrinkles depending on how you use them, see the manga series Psyren.)
Also the power is basically “free” as far as I can tell. (At least in Psyren there’s a non-trivial risk of turning yourself into a vegetable or killing yourself if you overuse your abilities.) Benjamin struggles to use his power partially because he can’t tell any difference when he IS using it. There’s no upper bound visible to what he can do other than possibly keeping track of everything. This makes the final battle almost anticlimactic, as I can’t really see much risk in the actual power display, and the social pressures feel more daunting.
Despite that, I did enjoy the book, and am interested in reading farther. I rate this book Recommended.
Title: The Lodestone
Author: J. Philip Horne
Jack Paris has the feeling something is watching him—but he has no idea how much his life is about to change. When an ordinary school day is interrupted by a strange wizard, old-fashioned warriors, and giant monsters, he discovers a centuries old plot to restore a powerful evil. And Jack has more at stake than he ever imagined . . .
This was excellent. Solid writing, great characters, and several surprises. Like Derek, the FBI agent who gets involved with the strangest kidnapping case he’s ever worked, and proves he’s in this for the right reasons. And of course the mysterious Miss Edel, whose dark past has given way to a much brighter present (now there’s a story I wish we’d dug into a little more, and hopefully if there’s ever a sequel it would touch on this a bit).
Jack was also a lot of fun. He has some unusual abilities, but they aren’t much in the grand scheme of things. Still, he does what he can to gather allies and stand up against the darkness.
The various mechanics around having two worlds, and magic in one of them, was also a lot of fun. Especially the off-worlders reacting to Earth just like the Earth-dwellers react to their world.
I especially liked the final confrontation. Behold the one power greater than magic—physics.
Overall this was a great read, and if it ever gets a sequel I will track it down. The story wraps up most things, though, so it works as a stand alone. I rate this book Recommended.
Author: Therin Knite
Series: Echoverse #2
Adem’s switched jobs to the EDPA, but in some respects, the new job isn’t any better than the old one. His new boss treats him like crap. He’s stuck in endless newbie training hell. And then a college student who died an impossible death crops up, and life is about to get interesting again . . .
I think the reason these books are so amazing is the depth of all the characters involved. Adem and Jin have a complex relationship—which I was glad to see was clarified as being really tight friends, bound by tragedy (although we still don’t have the full story behind Jericho). Unhealthy, perhaps, in that either one of them is willing to do just about anything for the other. And Jin gets some really good moments this book. Some really funny ones too.
I also really liked the reveals about Dynara, which cleared up some practical questions from last book, and continues building the mystery of who she is beneath all the masks she wears.
And I definitely appreciated Adem being taken down a peg. His arrogance was often grating for me in the previous book, as I really dislike those kinds of characters. In this one his pride is getting ground down, both from his own mistakes and from Dynara no longer treating him like he’s special.
For all that, the story still mostly focuses on a single crime and the bigger conspiracies radiating out from it. Like the first book, the murder is not all it appears to be. Gaining some answers only leads to more questions. The whirlwind pacing means the story never drags, and because dreams are involved, the abilities on display are like magic. And the humor keeps the horror aspect in check, because even though this can get pretty dark, it can also get really funny.
Given the way this ended, I cannot wait for a sequel. I rate this book Highly Recommended.
Author: Therin Knite
Series: Echoverse #1
Adem is an agent at IBI, a genius who can put together details to profile crime scenes and quickly find the culprit. But when a high-profile lawyer meets his death by dragonfire, Adem has the first case he’s having trouble cracking. Where did the dragon come from? Where did it go? And who wants this particular lawyer dead? But as Adem keeps digging, he realizes his case encompasses something far beyond what he expects . . .
I dislike arrogant jerk characters, so Adem took a while to stop annoying me. And the present tense did not help at all.
I did like the story, however. In this future high-tech society, something like a dragon is initially assumed to be someone’s escaped lab experiment, but the actual truth is stranger still. Adem is observant and intelligent, but childlike in a lot of his mannerisms, which other characters sometimes call out. And his habit of mentally reconstructing crime scenes is fun to read.
It’s also nice to see Adem’s tight friendship with Jin. They’re very different, and Adem doesn’t seem to like Jin very much, but some unspecified event has created this loyalty and support, and it endures despite everything else that comes up. I hope it stays as a friendship. It’s getting very hard to find stories that focus on friendship rather than romance.
And of course, the various dysfunctions of his government agency are a good source of humor. There’s a lot of laughs throughout.
Overall this is a fun story and I’m interested to see where the series goes from here. I rate this book Recommended.
Title: Hinges of Broams Eld
Author: Jennifer Cano
Series: Broams Eld #1
Livy Hinge never expected to find elves in her room—much less that they would urge her towards a trial to enter their world. The elves require a champion to deliver a magical Cure. That’s the only way the Blight that affects both the elves and the human realm can be stopped. But those who spread the Blight are determined to gain the Cure for themselves, to prevent it from ever being used.
This was a solid story, though for whatever reason it just wasn’t a favorite. The characters are well-drawn. Livy is impulsive and mischievous, which lands her in a lot of trouble. She’s quick to spot that there is a problem in the idyllic land of the elves, but her preconceptions and prejudices stop her from seeing the full picture. I do wish we’d gotten more backstory/personality for Brigid, but perhaps that will come in later books.
This is also very much a school story, as the kids are given dorms, classes, homework, and tests in an attempt to train them up to find the best person to deliver the Cure. Given the compressed length, though, we don’t get more than a taste of the various subjects. The overall atmosphere is very reminiscent of Harry Potter, with the magical pranks popping up every few pages.
The elves themselves are more like tree spirits than the typical elves. They have various plant-like head coverings instead of hair, a lot of nature magic, and turn into trees when they die.
Overall this wraps up well, and hints at a sequel to come. I rate this book Recommended.
Title: Monster Hunter International
Author: Larry Correia
Series: Monster Hunter International #1
Owen Pitt’s attempt at a normal life blew up in his face when his boss turned into a werewolf and tried to eat him. Now the former accountant is looking into a new career: hunting the creatures everyone has been told doesn’t exist. But strange visions and an ancient evil plague Owen, and his life is about to get a lot more interesting . . .
This was pretty good, although I’m not in the group that finds the opening scene the best thing ever (guess I just never had bosses that terrible?). The monsters range from werewolves and vampires to much more obscure creatures, which makes me happy (even if the main point is to kill pretty much all of them). The wendigo was a particularly nice surprise.
The action layers with the mystery. I liked how even though Owen is in training to become a big bad monster hunter, he’s also stuck in the middle of mystical visions he can’t control or explain. All the gun talk does go over my head, though I didn’t find it excessive. It’s also a pretty funny story.
I was a bit thrown off by the prose avoiding contractions, which was more noticeable towards the beginning. It made the text sound necessarily stilted.
Overall I enjoyed this, and will probably continue with the series. I rate this book Recommended.
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.