Category Archives: Fantasy

Gameboard of the Gods

Gameboard of the Gods

By Richelle Mead

Release date: June 4, 2013

I don’t like a lot of things.  This becomes apparent as I pick books to review.  And in the interest of not being one big vicious downer, I try to choose books worth talking about.  But still, sometimes I just like to complain.

 Often.  Just warning you.

 I have read most of Richelle Mead’s adult urban fantasy books.  I don’t own any of them.  On reflection, I wondered why that was when I started reading Gameboard of the Gods.  Her writing style is solid; her characters are very interesting.  Sure she writes teen paranormal romance…but I haven’t tried to read any, so it’s not like I can say that ruined everything for me.  (I work at a bookstore.  We all hate teen paranormal romance.  My one exception is Dia Reeves, and that’s because her stuff is crazy.  In a good way.)

 We follow two characters, Justin March and Mae Koskinen.  Justin is a disgraced former government worker who made his living debunking religious groups.  Mae Koskinen is a purebred Nordic super soldier.  Both are emotionally damaged.  Both are very compelling, likeable characters.  Mae is tough and capable without being two dimensional.  You know what type I mean: “Oh I am a Xena-clone warrior woman, hear me roar!”  She’s not.  Justin is a loveable rogue, and rather sleazy, but I didn’t feel dirty afterward, so that’s a good sign.  He’s built up as extremely competent and observant.  And now RUNA wants him back to solve a series of locked door murders with a potential supernatural bend.  Which is good, because Justin wants to go back.  And bad, because the supernatural doesn’t exist, does it?

 In addition, I liked Tessa, Justin’s teenage ward.  She provides the most identifiable voice.  She isn’t from RUNA, and she doesn’t understand all the rules/technology.  She’s believable, mostly likeable, and plays a larger role than the synopsis blurb mentions.

I liked the world too.  Disease, genetic mutations, and anarchy have led to the fall of the world as we know it.  But not everything is bleak and dystopic.  RUNA, the Republic of United North America, is comprised of parts of Canada and the former United States.  They have all sorts of shiny technology, clean streets, and no dominant religions.   Justin’s job was to prove certain religions were dangerous or in violation of the law and then to shut them down.  Therefore, there are lots of vague miscellaneous religions that don’t last very long, like Our Lady of the Key rather than Buddha, or Anansi, or Durga.  A neighboring country, the southern part of the United States, has become a hostile theocracy.  But Mead doesn’t really go into much detail.

 There is the issue is a virus called Mephistopheles, or colloquially, Cain.  It killed half of humanity, causing scarring, asthma, loss of fertility, and other fun things.  Diverse genetic backgrounds offered more resistance; so much of the populace has grab bag ancestry.  They’re referred to as plebians.  The castals are groups of varying specificity that claim ethnic pureness.  They have higher susceptibility to Cain, and special reservations.  Their “pureness” is varying from the Nordics and their multiple Scandinavian backgrounds to “Nipponese.”  Mead throws you in with little explanation of what some of the terms mean.  I thought I’d had a typo with Gemmans, another word for people from RUNA.  About a hundred pages in, things are explained.  But that leaves you with the traditional sci-fi opening feeling of “WTF is going on?”

 So the world is a playground.  The people aren’t boring.  Why don’t I love this?

 It was fun.  But flawed.

 Perhaps these things won’t bother you, and you will freely enjoy the book.  They bothered me a lot.

 Justin is built up as some kind of genius.  His exile is a silly punishment for the crime.  And it doesn’t really make sense.  Justin’s character is intelligent enough, but he doesn’t live up to the hype.  For example, I guessed, in the first chapter, what was going on with his…passengers.  He’s supposedly some kind of genius.  Focusing on religions. Possibly being used by something supernatural.  And he can’t guess who it is, despite having all that “genius” knowledge and free time for research.  He had to pretty much be told at the end of the book.

 So yeah, not that sharp.

 This detail is very very small.  Praetorian super soldiers like Mae don’t sleep.  Ever.  There is no explanation how they don’t go insane.  But seriously, prolonged sleep deprivation can cause drastic personality shifts, insanity, death…

 Final verdict:  Fun book, if you can overlook some of these details.  It’s been awhile since I read Mead’s other books, but I’m getting the feeling that I had similar issues.

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Review: 4 stars for Rougaroux Social Club: Bayou’s End

 

Lynn Lorenz authors several different series, each one polar opposite of the others.  Her series, Rougaroux Social Club, centers on a pack of werewolves located in the Louisiana bayou.  The pack dynamics are slightly different than want we usually see, which gives the series a fresh feel for those that like to eat these types of stories up.  The newest addition to this series is titled Bayou’s End, and is the story of Peter Graham and BillyTrosclair.

Those that read the first story may remember these two.  Peter is the young artist who made several unsuccessful passes at Ted, the pack alpha’s mate, before hooking up with a visiting art instructor.  Billy is one of the alpha’s deputies and is currently in charge while Ted and Scott are out of town on a much needed vacation.

After leaving his ex, Peter goes looking for Ted, hoping the private detective would be willing to help him.  What he finds in St. Jerome is more than what he ever expected.  The first meeting between Peter and Billy is intense and one of Peter’s secrets is revealed right away.  I did not see this little twist coming and liked that it made the connection between Peter and Billy that much stronger.  I was also surprised by the way Peter was treated by his ex, who I wanted to smack.  Unfortunately, Peter is one of those characters that trouble just loves to follow.  This of course makes things a little difficult for Billy who is trying to juggle his pack duties, his work duties, and now the duties of being a new mate.

Although the passion between these two burns up the pages, the author does not make everything easy for them.  There continues to be discord among pack members concerning same sex mating’s.  This leads to a few twists and turns that soon pull Peter into the cross hairs.  While the way Peter’s problems were resolved surprised me, I did like the way in which the author wrapped everything up.

Readers may want to keep in mind that this story touches briefly on the subjects of date rape and physical abuse.  While the author does not throw these subjects up constantly they are important to the background story.

Ms. Lorenz has a new addition to this series coming out soon, and I for one can’t wait.

Review – The Iron Duke

The Iron Duke

by MelJean Brook

I really enjoyed this book.  I absolutely loved the world-building.  Sure, there are a few things about the world I could pick apart that don’t stand up to close scrutiny, but they ultimately didn’t matter too much to me.  I am so impressed, especially if you like Steampunk and Paranormal Romance.  This is my third Steampunk book and I enjoy the clockwork, steam and victorian sensibilities.  It mixes the PR/UF up a bit for some fun settings and inventions.

It starts in England, just after the Horde invasion.  The Iron Duke had destroyed the Horde’s control tower (they injected the English citizen’s with nanoagents called bugs to control them).  So the duke has gone from a pirate to a Duke for saving everyone from Horde control.  Enter Mina, she is a police inspector and genetically half Horde.  It doesn’t make her popular.  When a body is dumped on the Iron Duke’s front steps, she is called in to figure out 1) who the man is and then 2) why.  It becomes an adventure story as she and the duke travel via dirigible, ship and steam powered coach all over the world.  They also fall for each other, fighting it the whole time.

So, there really are a lot of romance elements, lots of smexing and stuff but Brook really creates a wild world to work from. There are zombies (injected bugs gone bad), kraken, huge sharks, fire bombs and people who were never injected with bugs hating on the ones that were.  It really is freaking awesome.

Mina and the duke (Rhys) have issues.  There is almost a rape type event (does that seem standard in some of the UF/PR lately?!), lots of clockwork mechanisms, a missing brother and swashbuckling.  I really, really enjoyed the whole thing.  I even enjoyed the back and forth between our main characters fighting each other before they settle into love.

I will say that I think I need to mix up what I am reading lately.  I am starting to see way too many trends and getting a little jaded about it…so while yes, this is PR, and it contains those types of trends, the rape thing, the fight each other, the “I’m not good enough” and “I will bring him and my own family down if we stay together” and the kick-ass heroine used to taking care of herself and having a hard time letting someone else help…lol – it is still amazing. I loved this world and thought the mains and side characters were fantastic and I will be reading the next book!  I give it 4 stars.

Review – Blink

Title: Blink
Author: Lloyd Poast
Publisher:   Books to go Now
Publication Date:  May 17, 2012 

Summary: A teenage boy wanders into a mystical forest ruled by a gypsy goddess named Amaisia Moon.

The forest changes with every blink or head turn and he discovers an ocean where dreams and nightmares literally come alive.  (goodreads.com)

Review: A very quick read as it is only around 12 pages long, but I really enjoyed this short story. I agree with some other reviewers that I saw on goodreads.com that it has an Alice in Wonderland feel to it, but to be clear, there is no rabbit hole. This is a little scarier as you simply need to be lured into a forest or really whatever portal Amaisia creates to tempt you in.  Once in, you are stuck in Amaisia’s dream world unless you figure out the rules quick enough. The ocean creates new land and creatures from the inhabitant’s dreams and nightmares so things get a little wacky and scary but are always magical.

“You’re at both the end and the beginning of the world, Lance,” she said. “The ocean is a blank canvas for everything that is to come, and everyone who steps into the forest plays a hand in its creation. With every new thought, the tide moves out further, and the forest grows larger.”

This world could make a fascinating adventure/quest story or graphic novel.  I loved the writing, the characters and the setting. (Dave McKean would make awesome art for this story!)  I give it 4 stars because I really liked it (a lot!).

Review – Troubled Waters

Troubled Waters

by Sharon Shinn

This is my first book by Shinn and it has been quite a while since I picked up some pure fantasy.  I found it at my favorite used bookstore, purchased it by what I saw on the back cover and I am so happy I did!  Ahhhh, I was transported to a richly imagined world, life slowed down a bit.  This book sucked me in but good.  I really didn’t want to go to work and had a hard time pulling myself away from reading.  Shinn created a world full of magics, politics, horses, rivers and floods and the book is a lovely coming of age story about a girl finding out about her inheritance and family, understanding herself and finding love.

After the death of her father, a man who used to advise the king but had been living with her in exile, Zoe is whisked away to marry the king as his 5th wife.  But once she is makes the journey back to the city, she slips away from her escort and lives with the poor near the banks of the river.  Zoe is ruled by the elemental sign of water causing her to bring about change, surprises and flexibility (among other things).  Everyone in this world takes after an element and has most of its characteristics.  Eventually she finds out that she is the prime or head of her family, with the power and wealth that comes with it.  This means she has to return to the castle to take up her inherited duties, not to marry the king.

This is a typical fantasy novel with the slow build of world and character.  Zoe is a young, feisty heroine who was not raised to be political and speaks her mind.  She shakes things up, which is both exciting and unnerving at times.  The characters are well developed, the world lush and the religion well done.  The characters are extremely dedicated to their elemental attributes and they speak about it a lot, especially as a justification for their actions.  But it works.  The romance is no surprise, but it is sweet and rated G though there are some surprises in there.  In fact, this book might be YA, it would make sense.

The only thing that I was a little disappointed in was the villain.  I thought it was a bit convoluted and diluted, but ok, so it worked.  I think I might have huffed a bit when the reveal happened, but all in all I totally loved the book.  I couldn’t put it down even though life majorly got in my way of reading it all in one sitting.  If I could have stayed lost in that world, I absolutely would have.  I need to find some more of Shinn’s books.  4 stars.

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