curses

Keeping the world safe from evil spirits in “The Curse Keepers”

thecursekeepersThe Curse Keepers by Denise Grover Swank
47north, November 14th, 2013 (Urban Fantasy)

My rating: I’d go there again

The Curse Keepers is about Ellie, a townie in a coastal town near the site of the Lost Colony of Roanoke. She’s been told all her life that she’s a Keeper, an inherited position meant to keep the world safe from the vengeful spirits of the lost colony. There will come a time when two Keepers will have to perform a specific ritual, in order to prevent the Curse and keep the door to the Otherworld closed, thereby preventing the spirits from entering the human world. It’s very Pandora-esque, except the culprit was a man. Ellie doesn’t believe in the Curse, believing that nothing exciting in her life will ever happen – and not wanting excitement, either. Except one day, Collin walks into the restaurant where she waitresses, and she discovers that a current of electricity sparks between them. As the pieces of the prophecy fall into place, Ellie tries to ignore (and then adjust to) the fact that the Curse is real, to take the steps necessary to complete the ritual and prevent the Curse from taking place, and to deal with her fellow Keeper, who is tricky, secretive, and possibly untrustworthy.

This book is not without flaws. The first sentence was cliche’; the setting was a little too shades-of-Sookie-Stackhouse. Both Sookie and Ellie are waitresses, their waitress friends are named Arlene and Marlene, and they feel a strange connection to a handsome stranger who walks into their restaurant/bar. Initially, the banter falls a little flat. I was disappointed – Ellie’s character and circumstances suggested snappy dialogue and sarcastic wit. However, over the course of the novel the dialogue improves, and the circumstantial details recede to white noise.

The worldbuilding is slightly sketchy – in particular, the author creates a weird juxtaposition of science and spiritualism. The Curse was put in place by gods, and the world was created by a god in a short period of time – I forget if it’s seven days or not. I could have used a better explanation of what theology supported the events. I did enjoy the mythical underpinnings.

For all its awkwardnesses, I couldn’t put this one down.

The plot moves along very quickly, with lots of twists, danger, and suspenseful moments. Ellie’s partner, Collin, is a bit of a cipher – is he a bad guy, or a good guy? Is he trying to maintain the status quo, or is he in league with the (evil) god trying to bring back the spirits of the Lost Colony? I’m a fan of mysterious heroes, and Collin is a fun example. I loved trying to guess by his actions whether Collin meant well, or had a different agenda.

I really enjoyed the attraction between Ellie and Collin, and also their resistance to that attraction. The romantic arc (quite steamy, incidentally) was one of my favorite parts. As they rolled on toward the Keeper ritual, I was able to predict the general resolution of the plot, since it’s hinted at in a dramatically ironic way. But I love dramatic irony. And, some aspects of the ending surprised me. It ended on a cliffhanger, so I’ll be reading the next in the series. Hopefully the world is returned to rights, Ellie finds even more strength and courage, and she and Collin find what they end up losing as a consequence of the Keeper ritual.

Read-alikes

If you enjoyed the mystery of the Lost Colony, and the magic involved, you may like this story about the mystery of a real witch persecuted during the Salem Witch trials, and about her descendant’s search for her grimoire in a modern Salem (NB: the tone and writing are very different):
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

If you gravitate toward contemporary urban fantasies with a seaside town and a heroine with unique abilities, you may also enjoy this novel about a half-succubus, half-human investigator:
Dark Currents (Agent of Hel #1)

Were you drawn to Ellie, and her struggle to recognize and deal with the unexpected reality of the Curse? Try this novel about a carousel mechanic (also in a seaside town) who has renounced her unique powers, but must take them back up to prevent disaster:
Carousel Tides (Carousel #1)

For a young adult urban fantasy with a similar feel, check out City of Bones, about a young woman with a strange, fantastical destiny:
City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments #1)

Do you know of other similar books? Share in the comments!

Advertisements

Magic and Mayhem in Disenchanted & Co. Part 2, ‘His Lordship Possessed’

hislordshippossessedHis Lordship Possessed by Lynn Viehl
Pocket Star, October 14th, 2013 (Urban fantasy / Alternate history)

My rating: Vacation at a beach I’d go to again (equal to 3.5 stars)

This part of the Disenchanted & Co. series begins right where the first installment leaves off. The author wastes no time getting right to the action, thankfully. Charm (the heroine) is held captive by Dredmore (the villanous-seeming hero). She calls her ghost grandfather Houdini to help her escape by possessing one of her guards. She escapes, and begins again her quest to sort out the mystery of the magical conspiracy introduced in Her Ladyship’s Curse.

Charm has a very wry, witty way of looking at the world that I love. She’s still plucky, capable of protecting herself, and determined to be independent. Her wit and wry humor come through especially well in a scene where she gets dressed in a whore’s costume at her friend’s brothel.

The plot has a lot going on. And I do mean a lot. Dredmore and Charm’s grandfather Harry are keeping something big from Charm, something crucial to the plot resolution. Dredmore gets into trouble; it’s revealed that the conspiracy involves an ancient magical race and an ancient war; the mystery of Her Ladyship’s Curse is discovered to be especially complicated; Charm treks through the sewers underneath the city Rumsen; there’s betrayal; the relationship between Charm and Dredmore develops in a very decided (and exciting) way; she discovers a secret about her pendant; and there’s even more I don’t want to give away.

All this action makes for a roller-coaster ride of a short novel. At times I felt there was almost too much going on, and that it all happened in a fortnight was kind of unconvincing. At times I found it difficult to figure out what was going on, since it had been so long since I read the first installment. In fact, I would have enjoyed these two books much more had they been kept in a single volume. On the other hand, all that action, the romance, and the myriad sub-plots made this a very absorbing page-turner.

I have mixed feelings about this book. I would recommend the series for fans of steampunk and urban fantasy. Fans of Lynn Viehl will enjoy it, and fans of S.L. Viehl may also enjoy it, although it is quite different from her space opera/science fiction series Stardoc.

Read-alikes

If you liked the determined, independent Charm with her unusual and mysterious nature, who solves mysteries and stops conspiracies, you might also like this novel about a young soulless (and therefore unique) woman in London who solves a supernatural conspriacy:
Soulless (Parasol Protectorate #1)

If you really enjoyed the romance in His Lordship Possessed, you will probably also enjoy this sexy story about a bionic Duke and a Detective Inspector in an alternate 19th century England:
The Iron Duke (Iron Seas #1)

For another book that combines a magical alternate world with a story about an antagonistic but attracted hero and heroine, try this series about a magical young woman who is forced to work with an aristocratic Fae to save the Edge:
On the Edge (The Edge #1)

If you want to read about more independent, sharp-witted heroines who solve others’ magical problems, and an urban fantasy that is set in an alternate North America, check out:
Magic Bites (Kate Daniels #1)

I find myself short of recommendations of similar stories that take place in an alternate, historical North America. Do you have any? I’d love to hear about them!

Book Review: Shadow’s Curse

17191535Shadow’s Curse by Alexa Egan*
Pocket Books, September 24, 2013 (Historical Romance / Paranormal Romance)
Series: Imnada Brotherhood, Book 2
Rating: Beach vacation.

Shadow’s Curse is the second in a historical paranormal romance series (whew, what a genre mouthful!). I should preface this review with the fact that I have not read the first book in the series, and after finishing Shadow’s Curse I have to recommend that you read the books in their proper order to really understand the world and the larger conflict that binds the books together.

The world of Shadow’s Curse is an interesting one. There are shape shifters and fae creatures, all hidden from the general masses in Regency England. David St. Leger is one of those shape shifters, cursed after being exiled from his clan. David stalks the stews of London and helps those in need, but it’s certainly not for altruistic purposes, rather he just needs something to do. And he finds a whole lot more trouble than he bargained for when he comes to the aid of a young woman.

Callista Hawthorne is the young woman rescued by David, although she’s unaware that it’s actually a “rescue” at the time. Callista is being used by her brother for her ability at necromancy; she can contact the dead and her brother has been using this as a money making scheme. Callista wants out of this life and longs to escape to her aunt in Scotland. Unbeknownst to Callista her brother has sold her off to an underworld crime lord that plans to marry her and use her powers for his own purposes, and he will resort to any means necessary to make that marriage come about. Understandably Callista’s none to happy about this and when her path crosses again with David, she strikes a bargain and gets an escort to Scotland. Of course, the crime lord is not so keen to let Callista go and David’s got his own problems trailing behind them as well. The course of true love never does run smooth…

Essentially, what we have in Shadow’s Curse is an on-the-road romance. Callista and David are both on the run and they band together because of common goals. At first they don’t like each other all that much (Callista did inadvertently help capture David); however, they quickly become attracted to one another. I liked the romance aspect of this book, I just didn’t feel like there was enough of it. The main focus of the book was the adventure and the greater conflict that had started in book one. If I had read book one I think I would have been more invested in what was going on, but since I had not I was really reading it for the romance and I didn’t get enough of it.

In the end, I felt a little confused when I finished the book. I was missing something, and it was that first book. I liked the writing style and I thought the world had potential, but I think the confusion that I felt reading Shadow’s Curse really hampered my enjoyment of this one. Ultimately, I’m not sure that I’ll be back for the next installment in the series since I don’t feel invested in the outcome of these characters. I’m also not really a fan of the fae in fiction. Don’t really have a reason why, I just find them odd creatures, and I tend to stray away from books with these characters in them. I think had the romance taken more of focus I would have enjoyed this one more; however, I think those looking for more plot in a romance will enjoy this one a lot more than I did. Overall, not a bad book, just not my favourite.

*e-ARC provided by NetGalley

Read-Alikes:

Shadow Kin (The Half-Light City, #1)Steam & Sorcery (Gaslight Chronicles, #1)Legacy (The League of Illusion #1)

Book Review: The Cursed

cursedblackswan The Cursed by Alyssa Day
Publisher: Berkley
Date: May 7th, 2013
Genre: Urban Fantasy / Paranormal Romance
Series: League of the Black Swan
Rating: Vacation by the beach

The Cursed is the first in a new series by Alyssa Day. Here, readers are introduced to an alternate Manhattan, Bordertown – the dimensional fold between the human and supernatural realms. Rio Jones is a bike messenger with no apparent past, but after witnessing a kidnapping she’s thrust into the political dealings of Bordertown. Rio knows there’s only one person that she can trust to help her find the kidnapped girl – the Dark Wizard, Luke Oliver, who just so happens to be the guy who rejected her when she asked him out. The pair team up and discover a much larger concern, one the deals directly with Rio’s unknown past, and may just come at the cost of her life.

Luke Oliver agrees to help Rio against his better judgement. He likes her (really loves her, *sigh*), but he knows he should stay away since he was cursed long ago and he knows that getting entangled with Rio could activate his curse. When Luke learns that Rio’s life is in danger he will stop at nothing to protect her and in the process realizes that he wants to keep her around and will do anything to make that happen. The question is whether the fae or the demons will allow Rio to live past her twenty-fifth birthday.

I have to admit that I was a little disappointed with this one. I really liked the premise for this urban fantasy, but in the end I found it difficult to finish the book. What I didn’t like was the pacing, as I found it was up and down constantly; it was ultimately a very uneven reading experience for me. For example, the kidnapping that instigates the plot was resolved quickly but then it was one thing after the other for Rio and Luke to confront and it came off rushed rather than action-packed. Even the relationship between the two of them was uneven and felt off kilter to me.

What I did like were the characters and their dialogue, if I could have had more of that I think I would have been more satisfied with the novel. Luke was kind of a bizarre character. He was cursed and immortal but he certainly wasn’t a ladies man and at times his interactions with Rio were downright funny. I would have loved more instances of him being an idiot for love; in my opinion it was the best stuff about the book. As for Rio she was a good heroine, but at times was frustrating because her thought process didn’t really seem to make sense to me. She was constantly back and forth with Luke, and I really didn’t understand where her priorities stood.

Overall, I thought the book was okay, but I didn’t find it all that memorable and I think my short review reflects that. I also have to admit that I’m not a huge urban fantasy reader and it’s not generally my genre of choice so I’m having a hard time rating it against other books that I have read.

Read-Alikes

Shadow Kin (The Half-Light City, #1)Alliance Forged (The Light Blade, #2)Master of CrowsDemon Hunting in a Dive Bar (Demon Hunting, #3)

Book Review: Enchanted by “Disenchanted & Co., Part 1: Her Ladyship’s Curse”

ladyship'scurse Her Ladyship’s Curse by Lynn Viehl
Publisher: Pocket Star
Date: August 12th, 2013
Genre: Steampunk Romance / Alternate History
Series: Disenchanted & Co.
Sequel: His Lordship Possessed
My rating: I’d go there again!
e-ARC provided by NetGalley

Her Ladyship’s Curse begins the story of Charmian (Kit), a young woman living in an alternate United States that lost the Revolutionary War to Great Britain. Magic, ghosts, curses, and steampunk technology coexist … except Kit doesn’t believe in magic. She has spent the last few years in the city of Rumsen working as a private investigator, resolving clients’ problems by finding mundane motives and causes of curses, disappearing and reappearing boxes, and other magical occurrences. This time, Lady Diana Walsh has asked her to dispell a curse that carves hateful words into the lady’s flesh while she sleeps. In the course of the investigation, she runs into her longtime nemesis, a deathmage named Lucien Dredmore, who is determined to have Kit. She receives help from an old family friend, now the Chief Detective Inspector of the police, Thomas Doyle.

In a world where wives are considered their husbands’ chattel, and women have no rights outside of working for a living, Kit skirts the attempts of men to control, guide, and own her, fiercely holding to her own independence while solving the mystery of the curse and unraveling a political and magical conspiracy that lies at the heart of the mystery. Fearless, determined, and witty, she is a strong and delightful heroine.

The world-building was a bit fragmented and confusing, although Viehl did avoid info-dumping. A close reading is essential for understanding Kit’s world. I remain confused about a few historical and geographical points, and a map of the alternate world would have been appreciated. Why are the Hungarians the Enemy? That is never explained in this first part, yet it seems to play such a key role in Kit’s personal history. Kit’s discovery of her own past leads in one direction at first, but abruptly changes, without any real explanation. This was the main problem I had with this almost novella-length first installment. There was a lot to explain in terms of world-building and context, and yet the novel was so full of action and drama (not a complaint!) that not enough lines were devoted to clearing up some of the mystery of Toriana and the world. On the other hand, it is very easy to grasp the history and organization of Rumsen, where the action takes place.

The romance is predictable, but still enjoyable – Viehl is a master at writing the interactions and relationships that develop between an antagonistic heroine and an enigmatic “enemy.” In this book, Kit believes Dredmore is a charlatan like all other mages, and that he is essentially evil. She fights his interest in her (and hers in him) because she believes him to be interested only in possessing her. And he is, but things are not as simple as that. At one point, when both Dredmore and Kit dine with the Walshes, different foods are served according to the gender of the diners. Kit silently objects, and ultimately Dredmore slips her some of his food and exchanges it for some of hers. At the end of the novel, these two still have issues to resolve, but the reader is left with the hope that they will (and with the anticipation of future battles of wills).

The ending is frustrating, because I can’t immediately pick up the second volume – it might as well be under the definition of “cliffhanger” in the dictionary. Clearly the “Part 1” in the title is to be taken literally. If you don’t like waiting for the sequel, I would encourage you to wait to read this until you can read all three parts together.

Viehl is one of my favorite science fiction authors, and I was delighted with this foray into the arena of steampunk and alternate history. I feel it would have come together better and been more cohesive if it had been a full-length novel, instead of one part of a divided novel. Action-packed, witty, with great main and supporting characters and an intriguing alternate world, it will be a great addition to fantasy, steampunk, alternate history, and paranormal romance collections. I cannot wait to read the next installment.

Also by Lynn Viehl:

If Angels Burn (Darkyn #1)   Stardoc (Stardoc #1)   Bio Rescue (Bio Rescue #1)   Shadowlight (Kyndred #1)