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Jessica Strider (Toronto, Canada)
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The Invisible Library
The Invisible Library
by Genevieve Cogman
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.77
23 used & new from CDN$ 10.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Fun romp with a great mystery, June 14 2016
This review is from: The Invisible Library (Paperback)
Pros: wonderful concept, interesting world, fun characters

Cons: minor quibbles

Irene works for the Invisible Library, an edifice that stands outside of time and space, with access to numerous worlds, each with different levels of chaos and order, magic and technology. Librarians enter theses different worlds and secure unique volumes of fiction in order to advance knowledge and prevent loss. Irene and her new trainee, Kai, are sent to London in a magic-dominant alternate with a high chaos infestation to retrieve a particular Grimm manuscript.

When they arrive, they find the manuscript has been stolen, and numerous interested parties are looking for it.

While you don’t learn as much about the library in this book as I’d have liked, you do get some idea of how it and the librarians work. The magic surrounding the Language is pretty cool. The idea that words have power and names show truth is an old one, and used to advantage here. I really liked the idea that there are factions in the library, and you can’t always be sure you’re being told everything you need to know before a mission.

The world they’re sent to has an interesting mix of fae, vampires, and zeppelins. I liked how magic effects how technology works, so that different worlds are forced to evolve in different ways.

The plot is pretty straight forward, with several mysteries introduced and events propelling the characters from one event to the next. There’s enough downtime to get to know Irene and Kai a bit. You don’t learn much backstory for them, the book stays pretty centered on the immediacy of the action.

I did find the antagonist a bit on the talkative side in a Bond villain kind of way. I also thought Irene gets a bit too lucky with regards to leads on the case and the experimental use of the language. Minor quibbles, though.

On the whole this was a fun romp with a great mystery that will keep you guessing about who you can trust and why everyone wants this book.

Spells of Blood and Kin: A Dark Fantasy
Spells of Blood and Kin: A Dark Fantasy
by Claire Humphrey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 26.39
21 used & new from CDN$ 20.08

4.0 out of 5 stars Unique urban fantasy, June 14 2016
Pros: introverted protagonist, man vs himself plot, awkward situational and dry humour, minor romance elements

Cons: I wondered where Maksim got his money

The death of Lissa Nevsky’s grandmother affects her life in numerous ways. She has to take up her duties as a kodun’ia, a Russian witch, and her stepsister, whom she barely knows and who knows nothing of witchcraft, shows up unexpectedly to help out. The death also affects Maksim Volkov, a member of the kin who’s had his violent nature tamed with a spell. When the spell breaks he inadvertently infects a young man with his condition. Now Maksim needs Lissa’s help getting his violent nature back under control. He also needs to find the newly made kin, before he kills someone with his enhanced strength and increasingly violent restlessness.

It’s not common to find books that revolve around people dealing with their own problems, and their consequences - rather than outside physical foes - so I found this book rather refreshing. Similarly, it’s nice to see an urban fantasy novel that doesn’t rely on the female protagonist physically fighting the bad guys. And while there is fighting in the book - it’s mostly mutual, as a way of holding the violence of the kin in check (and done amongst themselves, since they can handle each other’s enhanced abilities).

Lissa is an introvert with minimal social skills. Her stepsister, Stella, is an extrovert who’s more into feminine things. The two clash in a number of ways. I loved Lissa as a character. She has a lot of the same quirks - and therefore problems - that I have. She’s awkward when a guy flirts with her. She’s uncomfortable with attention. She has trouble trusting others and telling them truths she’d rather keep to herself. I found myself laughing out loud a few times, just because I sympathized so much with her situation. Other times I laughed because Stella made pointed observations that were just the right kind of dry for my sense of humour.

Maksim’s got some issues, which makes him interesting, though he doesn’t do much in the book beyond trying to hold his demons at bay. Gus, another kin, has an interesting past and I found her snark fun to read. Nick was a little annoying, but he’s got the excuse that his body is changing without his knowledge, making him edgy and violent and kind of a jerk.

I liked that the kin are portrayed as the truth behind myths of vampires and werewolves. There’s just enough Russian mythology mentioned to whet the appetite, but not enough to quench it. Similarly the magic Lissa performs is interesting to read about, but sounds kind of tedious to perform.

There’s a hint of romance, but it’s a minor point and not between the character’s you’d expect.

I did find myself wondering how Maksim has so much money. Yes, he owns a gym and trains fighters, but he always seems to have ready cash to hand out to Gus. And while I’m sure being a soldier paid something, I’m not sure it accounts for the amount of cash he has in flashback scenes. It’s possible he saves well and his poor living conditions imply that he doesn’t spend much on food, housing or clothing, so maybe it’s a matter of priorities and good budgeting.

Along the same lines, while Lissa works at a printing shop, it’s only mentioned a few times and she seems to have no problem staying up until 3 am and/or sleeping in late a lot. Though, she is in her early 20s, which might account for her ability to go without proper sleep, I was starting to wonder if she was missing shifts.

If you’re looking for an urban fantasy that does some new and interesting things, this is a quick, fun read.

The Conjurers: A Gritty Fantasy of Witches and Wizards
The Conjurers: A Gritty Fantasy of Witches and Wizards
Price: CDN$ 4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable read, June 1 2016
Pros: interesting characters, simple but effective plot, great climax, standalone

Cons: journal entries too narrative

Every few hundred years a child is born with immeasurable power and the ability to use it without teaching or artifice. A group of sorcerers discover that a boy in Ireland is the one they’ve been seeking. They head to the island to capture him and steal his power for themselves.

There are two alternating storylines: Eamon and his family who are fleeing a bandit attack on their village only to run into wolves on the road, and Teresa, a Genoese nobleman’s daughter, whose brother has apprenticed with a well known alchemist and sorcerer in the city. You learn a lot about these characters as well as the dangers they face (including the various sorcerers hunting them).

I really liked the maestro’s introduction in Genoa. I loved how you learn about him from various sources before finally meeting the man. It built tension and expectation. All of the villains are suitably evil, but not in an artificial way. Sairshee for example, wants to go further in her apprenticeship but is afraid of the horrific consequences of failing the spell she needs to cast in order to progress. She’s portrayed as self-assured, but also recognizes that a lot of her security and power is due to the backing of the king. The sorcerers are all ruthless, and delightfully - and terrifyingly - so.

The chapters are all short, helping to create a tense book whose pages turn quickly, rushing you towards the end. The plot isn’t that complex, but it’s executed well, and leaves you guessing in a few places. While it’s a standalone novel, it does have sequel potential.

While set in the real world, the book doesn’t touch on any historic events, though the black death and hanseatic league are mentioned. Though the author doesn’t go into the magic in much detail, it seems to be based on circle magic found in actual grimoires (like the Key of Solomon). And as the real world magic it’s portraying, there’s a mix of scientific exploration and blood.

There’s a section of the book that’s supposed to be the diary entries of a teenage boy, but are written in a narrative style that didn’t feel authentic as journal entries. It’s unfortunate, because while the segments get a lot of detail across, the immediacy of journal entries could have added a bit more punch to those sections had the author focused less on descriptive detail and more on the events that happened (so, instead of describing the rooms and whatnot, the teen’s interest in the lodestone could have been played up more, and his hopes/fears for what’s happening).

I really enjoyed this book. It was cool watching the different teens deal with their individual challenges, learning on the fly and doing their best to stay alive despite some pretty harsh obstacles. The antagonists get pretty brutal at times, leading to a pulse pounding climax.

Every Heart a Doorway
Every Heart a Doorway
by Seanan McGuire
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 17.17
27 used & new from CDN$ 13.03

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating premise, May 24 2016
This review is from: Every Heart a Doorway (Hardcover)
Pros: brilliant characters, great premise

Cons: underdeveloped, mystery’s fairly easy to solve

Seventeen year old Nancy is starting at a new boarding school. But this isn’t just any school, it’s a school for kids who have found doorways to other worlds, kids who can’t forget their experiences and adventures and who want to return to their real homes in those worlds. And one of them is willing to kill to find their doorway.

I loved the premise of this novella, that kids who went to other worlds (fairylands, underworlds, nonsense realms, etc.) would come back changed, and would want to return to those places. I also liked how their parents weren’t too happy with the changes, and how society viewed their ‘odd’ stories, assuming mental illness.

The characters were fantastic. What a fun bunch of misfits. You’re told that a particular type of person finds these doorways, and that shows in how these youths act. They tend to be older than their years, speaking with a refreshing frankness. They’re a diverse bunch with several sexualities and genders represented. Having an asexual protagonist was neat, as it’s a perspective not generally used.

While interesting, the murder mystery is fairly easy to solve. And the shortness of the book meant that things wrapped up pretty quickly.

I really enjoyed this story. It was a fast read, and while I’d have loved for it to be a full length novel, the author made some great observations about humanity.

Too Like the Lightning
Too Like the Lightning
by Ada Palmer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 30.09
24 used & new from CDN$ 22.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stick with it, it gets brilliant, May 10 2016
This review is from: Too Like the Lightning (Hardcover)
Pros: absolutely brilliant, intricate world-building, fascinating interconnected politics, reads on many levels, thought-provoking, challenges ideas of gender and sexuality, later revelations force you to reevaluate earlier scenes

Cons: opening is VERY confusing, some uncomfortable scenes, frustrating at times

Too Like the Lightning is the first book of the Terra Ignota duology. The second half, Seven Surrenders, comes out in December. The two books together are a historical account of 7 days that lead to an event that changes the world, as written by Mycroft Canner, an eye witness to many of the events, as well as instrumental to a lot of vitally important background activities. The year of interest is 2454. Though the current world doesn’t use gendered pronouns and raises all as equals, Mycroft uses antiquated words for this account. Religions shows up too, though the Church Wars have made all proselytising, churches, and cults illegal. Mycroft is a Servicer, available to anyone who needs a servant, though most often seen helping those in high offices, to atone for the crimes he committed 13 years prior. He starts his great work by explaining the meeting between the sensayer Carlysle and Bridger, a 13 year old boy, who for his own safety Mycroft has kept hidden. A boy who can perform miracles.

The book starts with a title page explaining the permissions obtained so that the book could be published, as well as the various content ratings the book received. While these names and institutions don’t mean much to the reader at the beginning, they set the tone for a book with fully immersive world-building. I spent the first half of the book trying to piece together the meanings of positions and terms, placing characters into their political groups, and feeling quite lost by the sheer mass of things that are left unexplained. While Mycroft does give occasional asides for the reader, these are asides for readers of his present, for whom the events being relayed are past, and for whom the terms that I questioned aren’t unfamiliar.

The brilliance of the book starts in the second half when the occasional philosophical asides start to be reflected in the plot through the actions of the characters. It’s here that you start to understand that the book isn’t a straight narrative, that you’re meant to examine the different layers of text and subtext in order to piece together what’s actually going on. For example, Mycroft doesn’t always gender people properly. It’s frustrating as a reader, but there is a reason for this, which comes up later in the book. Similarly, some scenes are disturbing to read, not because they’re graphic, but because they pair eroticism and terror, something most people don’t equate. This again is done for a reason that the book eventually reveals. So many later revelations make you reevaluate what you understood from the first half of the book. Sometimes more than once.

The world-building is exquisite. It’s completely alien to our current political situation, and yet is something one could imagine coming to pass given the circumstances the characters face. The politics are fascinating, with level upon level of competition and alliance.

There are a lot of characters to remember, but I didn’t have any trouble keeping them all straight. I do recommend, however, bookmarking the seven-ten list when it’s revealed, as you’ll be referring to it several times as more people are introduced and the political situations become clearer. In fact, I haven’t bookmarked and highlighted so much text since university. This is the kind of book I would have loved to have a professor explain the intricacies of, and then write an essay on.

I almost put this book down on several occasions. It can be that frustrating and confusing at times. But the pay-off when you start understanding what’s going on, with all its layers and complexity, is definitely worth the effort. I cannot wait for the next book to come out.

The Summer Dragon
The Summer Dragon
by Todd Lockwood
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 30.00
24 used & new from CDN$ 22.26

5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful debut, May 3 2016
This review is from: The Summer Dragon (Hardcover)
Pros: great characters, interesting plot, immersive storytelling

Cons:

Maia’s always wanted her own bonded dragon to raise, and this year’s larger than usual clutches have given her hope that her time has come. But a northern aerie has been decimated by the Harodh and their unnatural horrors, its qits killed or taken, and the Dragonry’s needs for new dragons to fight the menace trump a young woman’s.

The appearance of the fabled Summer Dragon, witnessed by Maia and her brother, puts them at the center of a power struggle between their aerie, the Dragonry, and the Temple. Because Maia’s getting her dragon this year, one way or another.

With the exception of two prequel scenes, the novel’s told from Maia’s point of view. Maia’s a fascinating character. She wants a lot from life but she’s willing to put the work and effort into earning things for herself. She courageous in the face of horrors, and determined to do what’s right. She’s a character who speaks her mind and tells truths the adults around her are too tactful, or scared, to say.

There are a fair number of twists to the plot, especially towards the end of the book. The pacing is great, with some time to get to know the principle characters followed by several tense chapters, then some down time to learn about new characters before things get tense and dangerous again.

The storytelling is descriptive enough to draw a picture of the location and action, but not so detailed so as to bog down the narrative. When the action is on, reading this is more like watching a film, incredibly immersive.

I loved learning about dragon raising and riding. Lockwood introduced the necessary terms along with their meanings so there’s no sense of feeling lost, unaware of what’s going on. There’s also no unnecessary exposition. We learn with Maia and the qits.

The focus of the book is on a fairly small area. There’s a map that shows the wider world, and a few times events happening elsewhere are recounted. People and dragons with various colourations are mentioned, along with which geographic area they come from. The religion is cribbed from aspects of Christianity, though it’s not a direct representation.

There’s an overwhelming sense of hope in this book - that hard work, courage, and determination can overcome all obstacles. This made it feel like the fantasy novels that came out in the 80s, rather than the grim dark currently popular. It’s got a freshness to it that I enjoyed. Having said that, there are some very dark moments and I could not believe some of the revelations.

Todd Lockwood is one of the best fantasy artists ever, so it should come as no surprise that he’s drawn his own cover, map, aerie schematic, and section illustrations. The interior artwork is all black and white sketches, but they are gorgeous.

The only negative I found, is that while I got to know the protagonists really well, I didn’t feel much connection to the supporting cast. One character in particular I would have liked to know more about, and events with them during the climax didn’t hit me with the emotional punch they might have, had that connection been deeper.

I’ve long admired Lockwood’s artwork and now I admire his impressive writing skills too. This is a fantastic debut, one that’s perfect as an introduction to the genre as well as for long time dragon lovers.

Regeneration ((R)evolution)
Regeneration ((R)evolution)
Offered by Hachette Book Group Digital, Inc.
Price: CDN$ 10.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Great ending to a fantastic trilogy, May 3 2016
Pros: great characters, excellent world-building, interesting plot

Cons:

Thames Tidal Power, a co-operative made up mostly of gillungs, is set to start operations when a series of minor accidents occurs. The new company’s quantum-battery technology is poised to upend the energy market, and other powerful players aren’t too happy about that. There’s an election coming soon and the possibility of a new gem positive political party entering the race would split the United People’s Party vote, giving the historically anti-gem Traditional Democratic party a better chance of winning. As political and economic turmoil increases, Zavcka Klist is released from maximum security prison to house arrest. And she’s looking for the ‘daughter’ she lost eight years ago.

This book picks up the story of Gabriel, Gaela, Bal, Aryel, Mikal, Callan, Rhys, etc eight years after the events of Binary. The focus this time is on Gabriel and Mikal’s families. Gabriel now works on managing the socialstream commentary around Thames Tidal Power when he isn’t taking university classes. Along with his parents, he’s very concerned with keeping his adopted sister Eve off the streams in order to keep her safe.

Councillor Mikal Varsi, still an independent candidate, is being courted by both political parties as well as the potential third party. While the UPP and the new gem party make sense, he’s unsure why the Trads would consider approaching someone very much the opposite of what they stand for.

Mikal’s wife is now a Detective Superintendent, and keeping a close eye on the investigation into the accidents at the new power station.

It’s cool seeing how everyone’s grown, and also to see how time and change don’t necessarily remove the barriers and hatreds of ignorance, fear, and bigotry.

The story’s quite interesting and flowed nicely. There were a good number of unexpected twists, and while one aspect of the ending was fairly obvious, there were others that were not. I was particularly impressed with the last chapter that really rapped up the trilogy well.

While it’s possible to read this book without the others, the author assumes a familiarity with the characters, so backstory is left unexplained. This makes a few of the relationships harder to grasp if you don’t know them already. The ending is also somewhat dependant on knowing who Zavcka is and what she’s done in the past.

This is a brilliant series, highly recommended.

Transcendental
Transcendental
by James Gunn
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 29.99
4 used & new from CDN$ 10.81

3.0 out of 5 stars More telling than showing, April 12 2016
This review is from: Transcendental (Hardcover)
Pros: variety of aliens, excellent pacing, interesting mystery

Cons: impersonal protagonist, telling rather than showing makes it hard to feel immersed in the story

Riley joins a mixed group of alien and human pilgrims chasing after hints that an alien machine has been discovered that helps entities transcend. But not everyone wants such a device found, for the galaxy is enjoying a hard won peace, a peace they believe this machine will upset.

I was told that this was a sort of Canterbury Tales told in space. While Chaucer is referenced a time or two and some of the characters do tell stories, it’s not really a good comparison. Chaucer’s tales are for enlightenment and entertainment. Gunn’s tales are for exposition with regards to learning about character backgrounds and alien cultures.

Riley is an unreliable narrator. Though you’re getting the story from his point of view, you’re unclear of his motivations. You’re constantly warned not to trust anyone - including him, and told that everyone is lying about everything. This makes it difficult to get to know any of the characters, or feel like you’re really connecting with them or with the story.

Similarly, when the characters do start telling about their pasts - lies though their tales might be - it’s through narration that feels more like info dumps than a character explaining why they’ve decided to make a pilgrimage. Their stories are more about how their different races evolved or how they joined the Galactic Council than about their personal presence on the voyage. I found some of the stories more interesting than others, though they were all unique.

The book’s pacing is excellent. Each time I started to question things and need more information to maintain my interest, that information was provided. I was surprised at how early the Prophet was revealed - I expected it to be revealed as part of the climax - but it was a revelation that ramped up the tension for the end of the book.

There are a number of mysteries that come up at different times in the book from assassination attempts to what the transcendental machine actually is. Enough answers were provided that the ending felt satisfying.

It may not be the Canterbury Tales in space, but it does have some interesting elements to it and it was a quick, entertaining read.

The Legions of Fire
The Legions of Fire
by David Drake
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.46
32 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Roman based fantasy, April 5 2016
Pros: great characters, excellent world-building, interesting plot

Cons: a few distracting word choices

The magician Nemastes takes advantage of the superstitious senator Saxa and casts a spell in the man’s house. That spell interrupts the poetry reading of Saxa’s son Gaius Varus, and turns the young man into an unwitting pawn of Nemastes’s enemies. Also pulled into the spell’s influence are Varus’s sister, Alphena, who practices swordplay, even though it’s not a womanly art; his new, young stepmother, Hedia; and his best friend Publius Corylus, who grew up on the border of the barbarian frontiers of Germania.

The four players are pulled into other worlds, worlds in which creatures of myth are real, and where a group of evil men are planning the destruction of the world.

The author begins the book with a forward explaining that while the book is based on the history of ancient Rome (called Carce in the book to help keep the distinction), it is not historical fiction. He also points out that all of the gods and mythological creatures he references are things people in the past believed in.

It was really cool reading a book that referenced a lot of old mythology as if it were real. There were some expected creatures and a lot of unexpected ones as well. And while the main setting is Carce, Egyptian, Norse, and other belief systems make appearances.

The four principle characters are well fleshed out, as are a few side characters. I really enjoyed the developing relationship between Alphena and her close in age stepmother - the mix of anger Alphena feels towards the woman as well as her grudging respect. Hedia meanwhile is a surprising woman: on her second marriage with few illusions about the world. She enjoys sex and knows how to use her looks to advantage. She’s also quite intelligent with regards to the danger posed by Nemastes and honestly wants what’s best for her new stepchildren. I felt kind of sorry for Varus, who wants to do great things but just doesn’t have the necessary abilities. I was impressed by his actions in the climax. Corylus has a grab bag of skills that come in handy during the trials he faces. He doesn’t grow as much as a character as the others, but he’s a fascinating character to read about.

The plot takes a while to get going, but the characters are so interesting I didn’t mind. And when it does pick up, things go quickly.

A few word choices irritated me, specifically the use of ‘knight’ for a position in the Carcian army instead of the Roman title and ‘hell’ referencing to the Christian version of the afterlife (which didn’t exist as we think of it at the time) rather than the terms/meanings people back then would have used for the afterlife). But those are pretty minor complaints and didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book

This is the first of a four book series but though there’s a teaser for book 2 in the epilogue, all of the plot points are resolved and it can be read as a standalone novel.

If you like mythology and Roman fiction, give this a go.

Fallout
Fallout
by James K. Decker
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.89
23 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting follow-up to Burn Zone, March 22 2016
This review is from: Fallout (Mass Market Paperback)
Pros: great protagonist, fascinating world, interesting aliens, complex plot

Cons: minor plot complaints, Sam survives a LOT of dangerous situations without injury

Though months have passed since the events that took place in Shiliuyuan station, Sam Shao is still haunted by what she saw there and what she knows Sillith’s virus is doing to the people of her city. She wants to expose the truth of the alien haan, what they really look like and have been doing, and so has teamed up with some other dissidents to help expose the aliens’ true form. But there are a lot of new problems: Alexei is enamoured with the new Gonzo religion that worships the haan, there are hundreds of missing people, and some of her allies want to take their protests to a new, violent level.

The Burn Zone ended with several revelations that deeply affect Sam. This book starts with her dealing with the fall out of what happened, even though some time has passed.

She’s a great protagonist. She’s been through some horrible stuff and is quite tough because of it. That does make it difficult for her to progress in her relationships. She’s kept Vamp at a distance and her relationship with Alexei is combative, despite her love for her adopted brother. She’s dealing with a lot and so ignores some important clues that those around her need help and attention, which causes her problems as the action progresses.

The world is fully realized. It’s easy to picture the streets of Hangfei as Sam goes from place to place. There’s variety in the different neighbourhoods and a sense of history.

While you don’t learn much new about the haan, they continue to be mysterious. And the new haanyong - humans who have been ‘evolved’ into haan like creatures - are pretty scary.

The plot is really complex, though Sam does do a lot of running around to keep things moving. There’s a ton of action, though I was surprised at how many dangerous situations she walked away from without injury. I was also surprised by how naive she was about how people would react to seeing the true face of the haan.

While I predicted one aspect of the ending, several other things surprised me and I was left… unsure how I felt about Sam’s reaction to the various revelations.

It’s an entertaining book that will keep you turning pages.

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