alternate worlds

Chinese Dragons and Romance in “Dragons of Heaven”

dragons of heavenThe Dragons of Heaven, by Alyc Helms Angry Robot: June 2nd, 2015 (Fantasy)*

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The view was nice, but the food was bad (meh)**

In The Dragons of Heaven, Missy Masters is trying to live up to her grandfather’s legacy as Mr. Masters, one of the original superheroes of the mid-twentieth century. We are introduced to her present-day struggles to be taken seriously and to defeat a Chinatown crime boss in San Francisco. The narrative is split between the present-day and some time in Missy’s past. It’s also split between San Francisco and China. In one plot line, Missy is a superheroine fighting crime when mysterious magical walls spring up around all Chinatowns in the world, and around China itself. This launches Missy into the world-saving business, as she is the only person who can dissolve the walls. In the other, she travels to China to learn from a Dragon and become a better superheroine. (more…)

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Trailer Park Fae – Dark and Delightful Urban Fantasy

trailer park faeTrailer Park Fae by Lilith Saintcrow
Orbit Books, June 23rd (Urban Fantasy)

I’d go there again!
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Trailer Park Fae is one of the few books I’ve purchased recently at full price. I have a scale of preference when it comes to buying books, and buying them full-price is at the bottom. I don’t regret it! This may never make it to my “keep permanently” shelf, but it’s definitely on my “keep for now” shelf.

As a member of the urban fantasy club, this book fits in really well. The atmosphere is gritty, the characters troubled, the different species in conflict, and the intrigues tangled. Oh, and there’s a hint of romance.

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“Carousel Seas” – In Which the Pace Matches Maine Life

carouselseasCarousel Seas by Sharon Lee
Baen: January 6, 2015 (Fantasy)*

The view was nice, but the food was bad vintagesuitcase3vintagesuitcase3

Over the course of this trilogy, I have felt less and less satisfied with the details of life in a small Maine town, working a carousel at an amusement park, and getting along with all the natives, in human and other forms. This is not the fault of the story, of the details themselves, but belongs more to the pacing of the novel. This month, I appear to be looking for more fast-paced books with more action in them, and less description. The plot moves along so slowly that it doesn’t grab my attention. A note here: the pacing adds another dimension to the setting, since it reflects a slower pace of life. The language, too, is very “Maine,” and I think these added features really do help to bring the setting to life.

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Howl with Werewolves (Halloween Special Part 2)

In the second installment of our Halloween Special series (see the first, on Vampires), we look at my personal favorite supernatural: the Werewolf. Check out some good, better, and best werewolf stories in the list below. Word to the wise urban fantasy reader: Werewolves are sexy, so beware – many of these are romantic to varying degrees.

Just reviewed this week, a witty take on supernaturals living among us.

 

The Silver Wolf. The book that got me started on werewolves: a young, poor orphan, in the decaying Roman empire, sold by her family in marriage for well, the usual – money.

 

In Written in Red, Meg Corbyn, a blood prophet, finds sanctuary from the humans who tortured her in an enclave of the terra indigine, creatures like vampires and werewolves and other shapeshifters. Simon Wolfgard, leader of the enclave, doesn’t know why she doesn’t smell like food, or why he and the others find her so interesting. As Meg learns what it is to live in the wild, Simon discovers how much he wants to protect this strange human.

 

So, this one – not my favorite. But that doesn’t mean you won’t like it! It’s a humorous story about a witch just trying to get by, when werewolves nose their way into her orderly life.

 

The Mercy Thompson books are some of my absolute favorite stories, series, werewolves, EVER. Witty, sometimes dark, romantic, spooky, and upbeat, this is one of the best in the genre.

 

By the same excellent author, starring a different kind of heroine. Anna, victim of a vicious werewolf pack, is an Omega. Yup, that means she’s special. While not as stunningly amazing as the Mercy Thompson series, it’s still worth a read. You’ll want to start with the opening novella, Alpha and Omega. It may or may not be part of your copy of Cry Wolf.

 

Just started Silver, a serendipitous library find, and it has a different focus: Silver is a young wolf who has been tortured, poisoned, and is flirting (pretty sure I meant flitting there) between reality and visions. When Andrew Dare, enforcer for the East Coast packs, finds her, he’s driven to protect her and find out what happened.

 

Admittedly, I’ve only seen the TV series. But it’s a fun show! Might be a good book, too…

 

This is the second in a series about a former cop, who left the force to become a private eye because she developed a degenerative sight condition. In this one, her new sort-of-partner, Henry Fitzroy, bastard son of King Henry VIII and vampire, head out to the country to solve a mystery involving werewolves. Tanya Huff writes superbly drawn characters and complex settings and plots. A longer haul than most urban fantasy, this is totally worth it.

 

Sort of a tongue-in-cheek comedy of manners set in a steampunk Victorian England where the Queen has werewolf investigators and deals with vampires, Soulless begins a fun series about a soulless young woman, Alexia, and her encounters and involvement with the supernaturals in the community.

 

Crimefighting meets werewolves again in this one by Eileen Wilks. Lily Yu, a police detective, needs the help of Rule Turner to infiltrate the werewolf clans and find a killer.

 

I nearly forgot this one, though I don’t know how! The Psy-Changeling series is a truly enjoyable series that mixes humans, weres (mostly panthers and wolves) and a psychic race, in an alternate, sort of futuristic United States. Each book pairs a new hero and heroine, so if you’re into urban fantasy romance, you’ll probably enjoy these. Start with Slave to Sensation.

And if you want to get your werewolf fix in 5 minutes or less, here is the famous music video werewolf:

Anthropological Science Fiction in ‘Hard to be a God’

hardtobeagodHard to be a God, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky and translated by Olema Bormashenko
Chicago Review Press, June 1st, 2014 (Science Fiction)*

My rating: Beach vacation (but be prepared to think!) (3/5)

Written by two Russian brothers in the mid-20th century in response to political pressure on art and artistic works under Khrushchev, Hard to be a God is about one man’s struggle with the questions of how far to go to save others and live by his moral code, and if he can observe without interfering.

The main character in this novel, known mostly as Don Rumata, is a ‘historian’ who has been placed on a more primitive world to live in and observe the feudal culture that exists there. In kind of a Truman Show way, a camera placed in a gold circlet on his head reports everything he sees, his interactions, the daily life of the people. This culture that he witnesses is a mix of medieval feudalism and 20th century totalitarianism, with secret police and attacks on literate, artistic individuals – writers, poets, artists, musicians, scientists, philosophers, etc. (more…)

Adventure and intrigue on the high seas in ‘Child of a Hidden Sea’

hidden seaChild of a Hidden Sea by A. M. Dellamonica
Macmillan-Tor/Forge, June 24, 2014 (Adventure/Fantasy)*

My rating: I’d go there again! (4/5) 

How to start an adventure and intrigue on the high seas: Take an intrepid young woman, confident in her scuba diving, climbing, and wilderness survival abilities, curious about biology, and self-conscious about her ability to express herself. Have her witness an attack on her aunt while stalking her birth mother. Toss her onto a different Earth, where the sea extends so far that the nations are all island nations, and all the modes of travel on the sea. Add magic, in the form of writing inscriptions using people’s true names. Mix in some truly intriguing characters, including a genius brother, a jealous half-sister, a stiff ship captain, a promiscuous horse and spider breeder, and some villainous pirates and bigots.

I loved Child of a Hidden Sea. It ticked all my favorite boxes, with a strong but vulnerable heroine, a realistic sibling relationship, romance, sailing, adventure, swords(!), monsters and exotic locales, mystery and suspense. (more…)

Gallop on a wild ride with the futuristic ‘Peacemaker’

peacemakerPeacemaker by Marianne de Pierres
Published April 29th, 2014 by Angry Robot

My Rating: I’ll go there again! (4/5)

I had so much fun reading this fast-paced futuristic mystery thriller science fiction novel.

Virgin is a park ranger in the last natural space in the world. Birrimun Park is her home, her sanctuary. She maintains order and protects both the natural habitat with its unique flora and fauna, and the tourists. Her father, a powerful influence in her life, was a determined advocate for the natural world, until he died under suspicious circumstances.

One evening, returning from her rounds in the park, she disturbs some clandestine, inexplicable activities, setting off a chain of events that will change her life, and her perspective. Nate Sixkiller, U.S. Marshall, is brought in to help Virgin uncover and contain suspected drug runners. She resents his help, but learns to live with his meddling as she stumbles around the megacity, into and out of danger and the dens of various gang leaders. (more…)

A tale of Heaven and Hell in ‘Covenant’

covenantCovenant by Sabrina Benulis
Harper Voyager, April 1st, 2014 (Urban/Paranormal Fantasy)*

My rating: Meh. Liked the place, but the food was bad.

Covenant is the second installment in a series about a young woman, the subject of a prophecy that foretells the end of the world. In the prophecy, she is an unknown redheaded person whose destiny will manifest as either the Archon, or the Ruin (unsurprisingly, if she’s the Ruin, the world ends). But Angela Mathers is also just a young girl. She lives on an island isolated from the rest of the world, in a sunless city called Luz. There, she attends school with her best friend, Sophie, and other redheaded children, who have all been exiled to the island so the Powers That Be (that is, the human ones) can keep an eye on them, find out who the Archon is, and kill her. The school is recovering from the devastating events of the last book. Angela and Sophie try to put off destiny, but at the Christmas Ball it comes calling – one of the redheads has brought his sister (Angela’s friend) back from the dead, and Sophie is kidnapped in the confusion that follows. Angela begins a quest through the labyrinth of the underworld in order to retrieve her, and in the process faces danger and betrayal.

This book felt like a loosely woven sweater, with pulled threads peeking out everywhere, and holes in places. (more…)

Lives after Death in: The Waking Engine

waking engineThe Waking Engine by David Edison
Tor Books, February 11, 2014 (Fantasy)*
My rating: I’d go there again

This book is like a tornado, dragging its readers along for a spinning, whirlwind tour of the City Unspoken, a realm where the Dying go to Die their final Death. For when you die, you re-awaken on another planet, in another universe, as yourself but in a slightly different body. The City Unspoken, created by the First People, has become one of the premier destinations for those who meet the criteria and have the desire for the oblivion provided by true Death. It is a seedy, chaotic, and violent city with a population of newly awakened, body-bound, undead, and fae inhabitants.

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Diversity in “Ascension”

ascensionAscension by Jacqueline Koyanagi
Masque Books, December 4th, 2013 (Science Fiction / Space Opera)*
My rating: “Vacation by the beach” doesn’t really qualify, since it’s a more thinking book than that, but I give it the equivalent 3 stars. I probably will go here again. 4 stars. (3.5?)

As just about everyone knows by now, Ascension is about a queer woman of color who is a struggling sky surgeon (starship engineer/mechanic). She has a debilitating immune disorder that causes crippling pain without medication. By making an impulsive choice to stow away on a starship that visits her repair yard in search of her sister, she jumpstarts her transformative voyage from lonely, selfish, planet-bound surgeon to accepting, loving member of an odd but familial starship crew.

I liked this book. And that’s about all the enthusiasm I can muster. I really enjoyed stepping outside the traditional science fiction (genre fiction) characters and relationships. It even stretches the familiar space opera framework. However, the setting and worldbuilding were vague, and although the characters are intriguing and complicated,  I never found myself wholly absorbed in their story.

Where this book shines is in its diversity and the relationships between characters. (more…)