strong heroine

Gilded Lily – with submersibles, opium smuggling, deadly cuttlefish, and romance

gildedlilyGilded Lily (Steam and Seduction #3), by Delphine Dryden
July 1, 2014 by Penguin Group* (Steampunk)

My rating: I’ll go there again! (4/5)

Gilded Lily is an entertaining, sweet steampunk romance (definitely more steampunk than romance). The third installment of the Steam and Seduction Series, it works very well as a stand-alone novel, with only one or two obvious references to previous plots and romances.

Fred (Freddie) Merchant is really Frederique Murcheson, a young lady of quality in steampunk London who prefers to spend her time in trousers, fixing mechanical tools and appliances. Her father, in his attempts to keep her safe and out of scandal, has assigned Lord Smith-Grenville as her latest minder. In short order, the secrets of each are exposed to the other, and they begin a partnership based on mutual extortion.

Barnabas Smith-Grenville is searching for his younger brother, Phineas, reported last seen in an opium den. While he is prepared to find his brother dead or an opium addict, he refuses to believe it could be true. To find out what’s happened to Phineas, Barnabas applies for a job with Freddie’s father, who used to employ Phineas. When Barnabas and Freddie sort out their mutual supposedly hidden agendas, they decide to work together to investigate his brother’s disappearance and her father’s clandestine doings. In the usual manner of stories about amateur sleuths, they stumble upon deeper secrets and conspiracies than they have prepared for, and are soon dealing with an opium smuggler, earthquakes, underwater science stations, and deadly squid-like creatures.  (more…)

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The Queen of the Tearling: a swashbuckling fantasy of court intrigue and politics

queenoftearling The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
July 8th, 2014 by Harper (Fantasy)*

My rating: I’ll go there again! (4/5)

Everything changes the day the Queen’s Guard come for Kelsea. Raised in isolation for her own protection from assassins, she must leave her guardians, her books, and her forest to become Queen of the Tearling – if she can. Immediately, she and her guards are set upon by the most famous assassins in the world, and she begins the race for her life. The danger increases as she gets to the capital city to be crowned before her uncle, the profligate, dissolute Regent, can have her killed. While the Regent is her most immediate problem, he is not the only villain – the neighboring Red Queen has her eye on Kelsea, her country, and the jewels she wears.

Kelsea is young at only nineteen, but she has been highly educated by her guardians. Compassionate and ruthless, she has all the qualities that could make her a successful Queen of the Tearling, if she can survive it. Many people depend on her: her people who are shipped into slavery every year, her Guard, the starving serfs, and a thief who calls himself the Fetch. Along the way to her throne, she receives help from the Mace, one of the most formidable warriors in her Guard. The Fetch and the Mace are two very important characters in the story, although they are both shrouded in mystery (which I hope will become more clear in the next novel!). (more…)

Ghosts, Demons, and Vampires in ‘Deadly Curiosities’

deadlycuriositiesDeadly Curiosities by Gail Z. Martin
Solaris, June 24th, 2014 (Urban Fantasy)*

My rating: I’ll go there again! (4/5)

Not your typical romantic urban fantasy, Deadly Curiosities focuses on the supernatural powers, the fighting of demons, and the magic of paranormal fantasy. The story is set in modern-day Charleston (and having had a chance to visit the city while I finished the book, it seems the author portrays the city pretty accurately. And the houses she mentions? With the porches and gardens and side doors? Absolutely gorgeous. But I digress).

Cassidy Kincaide owns and runs her family’s antiques shop, but her assistant manager is a Weaver who can weave magic in threads and in data (he’s a magical hacker!), and her business partner is a centuries-old vampire who has worked alongside her family for generations. Cassidy herself has the ability to read objects’ histories and moods when she touches them. Together, Teag (the Weaver), Sorren (the vampire), and Cassidy defend the city and its inhabitants against ghosts and objects that have negative and harmful resonances, buying these objects from people, sometimes neutralizing their energies, and hiding them away. (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…)

Irenicon: Part Renaissance Fantasy, Part Allegorical Fantasy, All Interesting

46031_Irenicon_MMP.inddIrenicon by Aidan Harte
(The Wave Trilogy #1)
Published by Jo Fletcher Books, March 29, 2014 (Historical Fantasy)*

My rating: Beach vacation

Irenicon has so many different elements. Alternate history of the European Renaissance variety, steampunk fantasy, understated romance, superhero battles, magical water creatures. It also has elements of religious allegory.

This book tells the story of Captain Giovanni, architect to the Concordian empire, and Sofia, heir to the city of Rasenna. Their lives intertwine when Giovanni is sent to build a bridge over the wily Irenicon river in Rasenna, a city dominated by two gangs. Decades ago, the Irenicon was flooded by a mechanical device built by Concord, to depress the wealth and power of its rival. Lives, homes, and people were destroyed, and since then, two groups of tower-jumping gangs have ruled the north and south sides of the city. Sofia is approaching her 17th birthday, and the day she officially becomes Countess of Rasenna. Her position and birth  make her a powerful pawn in the struggle between the gangs, but she has plans of her own. Giovanni, disgraced architect of Concord, meets her when he arrives to build the bridge over the Irenicon. Though it is a symbol and tool of Concord’s dominion over Rasenna, and will be used by an invading army to pass through the city, Giovanni gives it a different significance – one of unity. As the bridge is built, politics in the city shift, power moving swiftly between the north and south sides. Outside Rasenna, Concord makes plans of its own, which are revealed as the plot advances. (more…)

This time, Rapunzel’s story

rueSold for Endless Rue by Madeleine E. Robins
Published by Forge Books, May 14, 2013 (Historical Fiction)

My rating: I’ll definitely go here again / Outstanding adventure! (4.5)

In keeping with our theme of late – that is, fairy tale retellings, I add to our list Rapunzel’s story, as told by Madeleine E. Robins, in Sold for Endless Rue.

As the blurb says, this book does explain why Rapunzel’s mother/witch locked her in a tower. It tells the story compellingly and convincingly, with fully believable human failings and motives. A masterful blend of historical fiction and the familiar “Rapunzel” fairy tale, Sold for Endless Rue enchants readers with stories about the three women central to the original fairy tale.

In the first narrative, Laura, a young girl running from captivity, hides in the home of a mountainside healer named Crescia. She becomes the healer’s apprentice, studying and working hard to continue Crescia’s good works. Eventually, her tale brings her to Salerno, where she studies to be the first female physician in her lifetime. In the second tale, Agnesa, young wife of a merchant family scion, moves in next door to the medica, and they become friendly neighbors. In the third and final story, Laura’s young daughter struggles between doing her duty to her adoptive mother and following her heart.

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Dirty Magic – a dark tale where magic is a drug

dirtymagicDirty Magic by Jaye Wells
Orbit, January 21st, 2014 (Urban Fantasy)

My rating: Outstanding adventure!

A volatile brew of magical alchemy, crime drama, and potential romance, this urban fantasy is a welcome change from the genre norms. Its premise of a “war on magic” really stands out among the other inter-species, supernatural conflicts in urban fantasy. Whether the methods used by law enforcement are any different or more effective than those used in the war on drugs doesn’t really matter – the comparison is still interesting. The world-building is convincing, the characters multi-dimensional, and the plot fast-paced right from the beginning.

The setting revolves around the slums of the city of Babylon on Lake Erie. Called the Cauldron, this neighborhood is home to magic addicts, the homeless, and the poor. “Dirty” magic, made on the streets and distributed as potions that purport to solve the same problems we use drugs to treat (Think you’re ugly? Get a vanity potion! Poor? Buy a greed potion. Need to win a bike race? Take a speed potion). “Clean” magic, dirty magic’s legal counterpart, works like legal medicines. People are divided into two generally antagonistic groups: Mundanes, who have no ability to cook potions or use magic and who usually end up the addicts, and Adepts, who have an affinity for magic and are able to use magic to cook, read, and transform potions. Magic use relies on alchemical processes.

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Patricia Briggs writes straight-up, old-fashioned fantasy in Raven’s Shadow

ravenRaven’s Shadow by Patricia Briggs
Ace, July 27th, 2004 (Fantasy)

My rating: Outstanding adventure!

From Briggs, one of my favorite authors of paranormal romantic fantasy a la Mercy Thompson, an incredible classic fantasy starring a family of individuals with unique strengths.

This novel opens with the first meeting between Tier, battle-weary soldier, and Seraph, young sorceress from a clan of wanderers. Tier finds her at the mercy of a village who have just burned her brother for being a Traveler – the common name for people of the clans. Seraph is a Raven, sworn to protect non-Travelers and Travelers alike from an ancient evil.

Part Two opens twenty years later, and Tier and Seraph have raised an unusually talented family on their farm. Every one of them belongs to an Order. That is, they each have a different set of magical abilities. On this day, Tier has gone missing, and Seraph and her children set out to rescue him.

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A Switch of Roles in If Wishes Were Earls

if wishes were earlsIf Wishes Were Earls by Elizabeth Boyle
December 31, 2013, Avon (Historical Romance)

My rating: Vacation by the beach

I’ve been in need of a historical romance break for a little while now, and so in a departure from my more usual science fiction/fantasy reviews, this post is about a fun, light Regency romance that has a dash of mystery and crime in it.

Harriet “Harry” Hathaway is one of three young friends from Kempton, a village with a curse – involving old maids and the peculiar dangers of marrying a Kempton woman. This is the third in a series about these young ladies, and although I skipped the second, I enjoyed the first. Harry, our main character, has known Lord Roxley since he moved to the neighborhood when he was eleven to live with his aunts. She is the youngest of five children, and the only girl – so when young Roxley meets her for the first time, she’s dressed in boys’ clothing. As a young adult, she’s been trained in comportment, etiquette, and all the rest – so she no longer wears pants – but she still puts her foot in her mouth, defends her own honor, and – my favorite – seduces Roxley. (more…)

Somewhere in France – A Joint Review

18090117Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson
William Morrow & Company, December 31, 2013 (Historical Fiction)*

Stacey and I were lucky enough to receive advance copies of this wonderful book at the same time, so naturally we decided it was an opportune time to do another joint review.

Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford, or Lily, as she prefers to be called, is trapped by her status in life. Her family expects no more from her than a well-connected marriage. While Lily dreams of more, she has no idea how to go after what she wants: an education, an occupation, and a life with meaning. However, when war breaks, Lily finally finds the impetus she needs to overthrow her parents’ constraints. With perseverance, she obtains employment as an ambulance driver and contrives to get herself stationed near her brother’s best friend, Robbie Fraser.

Robbie is surgeon of low (Scottish!) birth working near the front lines. After Robbie gets thrown out of a party at Lily’s parents’ house, he drops out of Lily’s life. When she begins her search for purpose and work to help the war efforts, they become reacquainted. Robbie and Lily start up a correspondence at beginning of the war, and while he admires her commitment, he’s thrown for a loop when Lily shows up at his hospital, which is much closer to danger than he would like Lily to be. Robbie struggles with his growing feelings for Lily because of his fear for her safety but also because of their difference in social station. He wonders what will happen when the war ends. Will Lily return to her parents and her life of privilege? Would it be better to simply end things before they get a chance to begin? (more…)