Category Archives: Urban Fantasy

Review: The Blue Blazes

TheBlueBlazes-144dpi  The Blue Blazes

By Chuck Wendig

  Release date:  May 28, 2013

  Angry Robot has been hit or miss for me, but Chuck Wendig is a hit.   I guess it’s not really fair for me to single out a publisher, but they’re memorable.  That is due to their tag system; the back of every book has a list of descriptions.  File under Occult Underworld/Psychedelic Color Drugs/Not Your Mother’s Elektra-Complex.  I made those ones up.  But you get the gist.  Also, this book doesn’t come out for another month, but we all need something to look forward to, right?

If you’ve read Wendig’s Miriam Black series (Blackbirds, Mockingbird), you know he can write.  And you know the characters he writes aren’t really people you want to invite to your house.  Wendig is gritty.  His characters are damaged, not always likeable, and likely to make off with the good silver. I also want to add an “o” to the end of his name because how awesome would that be?  But I digress.  The Miriam Black series skirts the paranormal.  For the most part, it’s the world as we know it, only with more trailer trash and serial killers than Ohio.  (It’s OK, I can say that; I live in Ohio.  No, I lied; it will never be OK.  I live in Ohio.)  In The Blue Blazes, Wendig finally takes the plunge and brings us Neverwhere‘s crackwhore stepsister with serious daddy issues.  I mean that in the nicest way possible.

Mookie Pearl is a thug, an estranged father, and a soldier in the Polish mob.  He likes eating meat, beating the shit out of goblins, and doing the eponymous Blue.  Blue is a drug mined from the Underworld, a literal chthonic nightmare situated under NYC.  It makes the user stronger, faster, and open to seeing disturbing magical things, which also come from said Underworld.  The most common are goblins: primitive, man-eating, and possessing disgusting spawning habits.  There are more things in the depths too, things that drive mere mortals to gibbering insanity.  It’s a Lovecraftian setup with nary a “ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”

And then comes Nora AKA Persephone: Mookie’s dear drug-dealing daughter who has daddy-issues.  She’s started a rival setup and is heading toward war with Mookie’s Polish friends.  Now Mookie isn’t a total monster, he really does care about Nora.  But it would be very bad if his employers found out about their relationship.  Then the boss-to-be approaches Mookie about a very special mission in the Underworld… Of course, things just go to subterranean hell from there.

I enjoyed the fantasy element a lot.  Wendig made very entertaining characters and factions.  The potential love interest grows a little bland at parts, but Mookie and Nora set a high bar.   I’m also a sucker for well-meaning but utterly dysfunctional family stories.  Mookie and Nora’s relationship is not good.  And they both have very good reasons to be unhappy with each other.   Lister and Werth also have extremely…unhealthy but compelling relationships with Mookie.  I won’t go into spoilers, but I enjoyed their interaction too.

The street gangs get a little silly (roller derby rockabilly chicks that don’t use guns are cool in theory, but not using heavier weapons makes it hard to take them seriously).   The Blue Blazes has a more distinct questing element than Miriam Black.  Parts of the treasure hunt feel a little too convenient, but I can suspend disbelief because of the writing. Also because Wendig throws in fun crazy shit: construction worker-warriors, zombie-towns, delicious meats…  It’s gritty, but fun.  Maybe a bit more uplifting than the Miram Black books; which is weird because this definitely has more disturbing imagery.

The journal entries before each chapter are a nice bit of milieu.  Very Lovecraftian.  I don’t think the super bad things are quite as scary as they should be, but I took this more as a dark urban fantasy romp than a horror story.  The ending is a little predictable, but still satisfying.

So if you need something dark, gritty, and fun, I recommend The Blue Blazes.

Review: Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations

WeirdDetectivesWeird Detectives: Recent Investigations

Edited by Paula Guran

Published March 19, 2013

I love short story anthologies, especially the kind that provide a sampling from several authors.   I know going in that there are going to be some stinkers, but usually there are at least a few good ones, and if I’m lucky, there will be a new author to pick up.  And the topic matter makes for great stories.

Weird Detectives has a lot of heavy-hitters.  This guarantees good solid reads that won’t make you go “Oh God I spent $16.99 on this book, and now I can’t afford lunch, and it sucks!”  Unfortunately, most of the things by the people we know best are reprints.  In fact, everything in here is a reprint, but since some of the authors aren’t so well-known some of the stories were new to me.  The only really new content is case summary.  Each chapter has a case summary, if you will, outlining the who and the what of the crime.

For the authors you know, nothing really deviates from the expected.  Neil Gaiman and Patricia Briggs are impressive as always.  I prefer Jim Butcher’s novels to his short stories, but “Love Hurts” is decent read.  Reprint or not it is a very good selection of stories.  BUT, some of them are very old.

I’ve picked a few stories to highlight, and they’re spoiler free!

“Fox Tails” by Richard Parks surprised me.  I’d seen his Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter, and decided to pass on that one.  I’m very picky about Asian-themed lit.  It’s either not very good or tends to play to stereotypes.    His writing took a moment to get used to; the style was punchier than most Heian era tales.   That put me off initially – it felt too anachronistic.  The protagonist sounds like he’d be more at home in the Maltese Falcon than the Tale of Genji.  It’s a little jarring.

As monsters went, youkai ran the gamut from “mildly annoying” to “slurp your intestines like hot noodles.” By the time you knew which sort you were dealing with, it was usually too late.  (pg 371)

But a few pages into the story I was able to suspend my disbelief and just enjoy the ride.  I don’t know if I’ll buy his collection of Yamada stories, but I liked his writing.

“Like Part of the Family” by Jonathan Maberry piqued my interest.  He’s on my to-read list.  This one doesn’t involve zombies and it’s a rather predictable private eye tale, but I enjoyed his voice and style.  Definitely going to pick up more of his stuff.

“Imposters” by Sarah Monette held some very interesting post-modern magic and not a little social commentary.  It’s Capgras Syndrome in reverse, which in these cases happens to be very terminal.  The character dynamic was very compelling, but it felt a little preachy at the end.

“Cryptic Coloration” by Elizabeth Bear was not what I expected.  The first time I read it, I was surprised, and not certain if I liked it.  But after a reread I’ve decided that I do.  It involves virgins, monsters, and a rather improper students/teacher relationship that has severe consequences.  Elizabeth Bear recently put out a short story anthology Shoggoths in Bloom.  This is printed in that as well ( and where I saw it first), and it is an excellent compilation.

“Death by Dahlia” by Charlaine Harris was a pleasant reread.  Yes, I know, everyone knows Charlaine Harris and I was trying to highlight some of the less famous, but still good stories.  I’m hypercritical and have been editing my words, but here I’ll be blunt.  I don’t like the Sookie Stackhouse series; it’s a revolving door dating service for an only somewhat likeable but not very compelling psychic waitress.  There, I said it.  Bring on the fire and pitchforks.  But while we’re waiting, I will admit, Charlaine Harris can write (despite my feelings about that series).  Dahlia is a far more interesting character than Sookie, and she’s set in the same universe.  A familiar character makes a cameo.  So even if you don’t like Sookie, Dahlia is worth a read.

Overall, this is a great collection worth owning.  BUT, you should definitely check to see if you’ve already read/purchased these stories elsewhere.  Prime Books posted a copy of the table of contents here.

Review – A Kiss Before the Apocalypse

A Kiss Before the Apocalypse

by Thomas E Sniegoski

Dusty gem from my bookshelf

This is the beginning of a series about Remy Chandler, a private investigator who also happens to be an angel.  He lives on earth like a human because he wants to, which is a big deal.  Remy normally hunts down cheating spouses and during a routine case finds the husband of the woman who recently hired him, but the case takes a dramatic turn when the man recognizes his angelic nature, then kills himself.  But he can’t die regardless of the trauma.  The Angel of Death is missing and neglecting his duties.  Seraphim visit Remy and ask him to find the Angel of Death, the missing scrolls and to stop the Apocalypse.  The Four Horsemen are on their way, heaven wants to stop it and a host of others want to see it happen.

Quick side note:  There are a whole bunch of fallen, exiled and hiding angels living in Boston – is that why it is a fun city, or are they there because it is?  Something to ponder…

This was a gritty adventure and the apocalypse is just around the corner.  Remy has a dog, who he can converse with (angelic superpowers and all), which is a very sweet relationship.  The conversations were well done.  Also, as an angel Remy is immortal but his human wife is nearing the end of her life.  It is interesting that this first book in the series is about both the end of the world and the end of his married life.  But I think it opens the field to Remy taking on dangerous jobs in future novels.  Most of the other characters Remy deals with are immortals of some type, usually angelic or fallen.

The story is full of action, but it really made me think about love. If you lose someone you love, how do you cope? What would it be like to be immortal and how they may eventually desire for life to end. What are angels really like? Are they emotionless? Do they need to be to live as long as they do? What would happen if they felt emotion? Sniegoski plays with the concept of angels, their motivations and their desires. What event may have turned an angel to live amongst the humans instead of the heavenly host? The book is bittersweet…there is another book in the series, so I am sure you can guess whether the apocalypse happens, but his wife is dying and there is no stopping death once he is doing his job.

I cried a couple of tears at the end and look forward to picking up the next in the series.  I give it 3.5 stars.

Teaser –

“His eyes burned like pieces of the sun, jammed into the fleshy sockets, but he did not cry.  He never could cry.”

Review – Black Wings

Black Wings (Black Wings #1)

by Christina Henry

Purchased

Madeline Black is an Angel of Death.  She has a gargoyle friend who protects her house, her mother died when she was 13 and she never knew her father.  Her mother’s job was passed to her when she died, so Maddy is part of the bureaucracy that helps ferry souls to the ever after.  And a bureaucracy it is.  There is paperwork, supervisors and she doesn’t get paid.  Luckily she can rent out the bottom floor of her house.  She rents it to a gorgeous guy, Gabriel Angeloscuro (nice last name, hint hint).  But right after she rents it to him demons begin showing up trying to kill her.

This was an enjoyable book, I read it quickly and with zeal.  It is jam-packed full of action, world building, demons, souls, blood and mayhem.  Her lineage is revealed to her, and it is colorful and an important part of the story.  There was a little romantic tension, but she is a virgin, so don’t expect much there.  It makes me wonder what Henry has in store for Maddy.  It also ends looking like there will be a love triangle in the next book.  Hmmmm.

There is a lot of action and a lot of names to remember.  In fact a couple of times I got a little lost but just kept reading.  When the bad guy puppeteer is revealed, I wasn’t really sure if I should have known more about them already, but I soldiered on and the story made perfect sense.  I found I did that a lot with the Cassie Palmer stories too, I would get lost but keep going and things tended to straighten themselves out.  It was a good start for a new paranormal urban fantasy and I will be looking for the next book in the series, Black Night.  I liked it, 3 stars.

Review – Dead Man’s Hand

Dead Man’s Hand

By Lee Jay Stura

ebook provided by the publisher for review

I just want to say really quickly, since they published this book and all, that I don’t work for Three Crow Press.  This review is going up on their website, but it is independent and written by me.  Cheers!

This book takes place in 1906 up in San Francisco.  Our hero Denver Sinclair, tells this story from his POV (which is refreshing since most of the paranormal heroes these days are women!) and is a bit of an anti-hero who you root for anyway.  He is a relatively new vampire, serving an evil mistress who has bonded him to her with a blood debt.  He owes her a lot and like an indentured servant, sees no freedom in sight.  Denver likes to gamble and he is not an obedient man, so he cheats in every way possible, either by skimming off the top of his boss’ deals to playing cards and winning every time.  Denver is in love with Lily, a Chinese human woman and is trying to figure out how the two of them can have a future together and away from  his evil mistress, when mother nature throws a huge monkey wrench in everyone’s lives.  The earthquake of 1906 hits in the early morning and afterwards fires raged out of control throughout the city due to broken gas lines.

Denver and Lily survive, though Denver has to go to ground right after the quake to survive the dawning day.  Once they escape the building rubble they race for their lives across the burning city with run-ins from the army, refugees and his master’s minions.  Denver is hoping against hope that his master died in the quake and he will finally be free.

So, Denver is an interesting character.  I really wasn’t sure I was rooting for him for a while, because he isn’t a good guy by any means.  But by his actions, you find he is practical, and human in his thinking, but not evil.  It is the wild west after all, and when he was human he didn’t have the best judgment and it hasn’t really changed now that he is a vampire!  The story is quite fun, escape and survival being the issues to deal with.  These two are thwarted at every turn.  The race against the fire and the army are interesting.  Not quite as breath-taking as they could have been.  It almost seemed like Denver and Lily had a lot of time to do things…yet the fire was right behind them so it felt a little incongruous at times.  But the action is high, the characters grow on you and you root for Denver.  Lily is a spitfire and she complements Denver.  The storyline did not go where I expected it to, which was enjoyable and Stura had better be writing a sequel because there is definitely more story to be told with that ending!  I loved the setting, the Barbary Coast was fairly lawless in a lot of ways and these vampires are carving out a niche for themselves.  The other interesting thing is that Stura’s vampires, while strong and magical in many ways are not perfect and flawless.  They can’t get away with everything they want and actually have to be careful of discovery.  It made them much more interesting as characters to have a few weaknesses.

This is a historical urban fantasy with a male lead first person POV with action, adventure, a little smexiness and paranormal craziness.  It is a strong first novel and I am looking forward to seeing more from Lee Jay Stura, 4 stars.

Review – A Perfect Blood (Hollows book #10)

A Perfect Blood

by Kim Harrison

Man, I love this series.  All the characters are awesome and I care what is happening to them.  Rachel Morgan would have died many times if not for her friends backing her up, and this book is no exception.  Individually she is powerful, but true strength comes with friendships.  But her love and duty to her friends are a bit of why she starts out the way she does in this installation of the series.  This is book #10 and all of the characters have undergone amazing transformations, have survived much together and Rachel is a little scared.  She wants to be normal and have everyone quit poking at her.  Normal in this case means no ley line magic and rejecting who and what she is.  Hmmm.

Rachel, Ivy and Jenks get pulled into an investigation with both the IS (magical police) and FIB (human police) because a human hate group is targeting Inderlanders and killing them in horrific ways.  Those two groups don’t normally work together, they don’t really get along.  The hate group is trying to create a magical, demonic weapon to wipe out all magical creatures.  Rachel, Ivy & Jenks need to stop them quickly or everyone will suffer.  The action gets nuts towards the end of the book, but it still kept me at the edge of my seat because of the push/pull with the people in the IS/FIB.  Additionally, I do enjoy watching Rachel grow and progress.  It is painful at times, because she can’t see past certain things, but she gets it eventually.

Ivy, Jenks and Rachel seem to be moving in their own directions.  They aren’t as close as they have been in the past, but they know each other very well and are able trust and love and live together in harmony.  It is nice.  Though of the three, Rachel is the only one who is really struggling in this one.  She was nearly killed in the last book, and it has shaken her to the core.  She has to find herself, her strength, her power and accept who she is.  It is a long, somewhat difficult journey, but she has help.

We get a new character, Wayde.  He is a werewolf bodyguard sent by her parents.  He is interesting and is just about as stubborn as Rachel.  They have an interesting back and forth that they do.  Trent, well, I have had a love/hate relationship with his character and he is growing on me.  We will see if Rachel begins to trust him or what might happen.  Al, I love Al.  We don’t get to see nearly enough of him or the everafter in this book, and Rachel has some fixing to do down there…but maybe in the next one.   Also, since Harrison is going to wrap up this series in a couple of books, I hope she tackles a few story lines, Nick, her aura, Trent, the gaping hole in the everafter, Nick, oh yea, and Nick. 

Anyway, this book is great.  That I got to get it signed and meet Kim Harrison actually made it even more fun to read.  This series is awesome.  If you like UF and all sorts of magical creatures, humor and a strong female lead, this series is a must.  I give it 4 stars.

Review – Skinwalker by Faith Hunter

Skinwalker

by Faith Hunter

This has been an interesting book, a gritty and realistic post-Katrina New Orleans and a complex lead character.  Jane Yellowrock is Cherokee, a skinwalker meaning she can change her shape into any creature, and shares her soul with a Mountain Lion she calls Beast.  She also hunts and kills rogue vampires, has an attitude problem, and doesn’t remember her life before she crawled out of the forest at 12 and was sent to live in a Christian children’s home.

Jane goes to New Orleans to hunt down a rogue vampire who is killing humans and vampires alike.  He smells funny and Beast calls him a liver eater.  We find all about what a liver eater is, and it hits Jane pretty hard.

So I had a hard time getting into this book.  I enjoyed her sass, though it does get a little old, but towards the end of the book she begins to have more of a filter, “But, I didn’t say it.  I was getting better at controlling my natural rude instincts.”  She plays a dangerous game.  Yes, she is a hunter, her employers (sane vampires) don’t know what she is and how quickly she can heal or how much damage she can both take and inflict, but she also is learning as she goes and gets by on the skin of her teeth at times.

Also, when she shapeshifts and becomes Beast, or even talks to Beast, the narrative is very basic and animalistic, which makes it easier to discern who is thinking what when there is internal dialog, but it is difficult to get used to and I was slightly annoyed with it at first.  But this becomes more streamlined as the book and story move forward until you get used to it, and quite honestly I think it is softened somewhat by Hunter as she gets into the story.

This book is pretty bloody and violent.  The rogue kills often and leaves a pretty grotesque, disgusting scene.  When Jane shifts into the beast they hunt and kill animals and the vampires drink of lot of blood.  Not for the squeamish.

No real romance to speak of, there is plenty of sparring and innuendo and blatant offers, and while Jane shows some interest, that isn’t the direction this character goes in this book at least.  Who knows, we find out she is going to stay in New Orleans for the next book in the series, perhaps she will pick someone to get a little closer to.

Even though it took me a while to get hooked on the book, it did finally catch and the end is one wild ride.  Jane is a character to watch and I think I might just pick up the next book, Blood Cross next.  3.5 stars.

Review – Pale Demon (The Hollows #9)

Pale Demon (Book #9)
by Kim Harrison

In honor of the next book in the series, A Perfect Blood being released yesterday (yay, so excited to pick it up at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego on March 4th where I am going to get it SIGNED)…just a little reminder of how Pale Demon kicked some booty, or was that Rachel?!

Wow, Pale Demon is a non-stop thrill ride!  I had to put it down once in a while just to get my head around what is happening.  There are very few plot twists I could actually predict, which is both fun and overwhelming. Rachel, Trent, Jenks and Ivy embark on a road trip to CA, and they have to get there in two days. Rachel to hopefully get her shunning revoked and Trent, well he isn’t very forthcoming about his reasons. Unfortunately, they don’t just have to contend with boring highways, close quarters and how to make good time when they have to keep taking bathroom breaks (Jenks has a small bladder, you know). Someone is trying to kill Trent and we have many other mishaps and mysteries along the way. Read the rest of this entry

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