Half Off Ragnarok : Seanan McGuire

When I started Fox Spirit Books, I officially stepped down from reviewing. I sent polite emails to everyone explaining that I no longer had the time and could not go on accepting books knowing that I would not have chance to review them. Occasionally I have to resend due to staff changes.

There was one exception. I never sent such an email to DAW. The thing is DAW have only ever sent me books for one of their writers, a certain Seanan McGuire. Add to that, the fact that Seanan is one of those rare writers whose books I turn to when ‘I can’t find anything to read’ (in a house full of read, re read and many as yet unread books). It doesn’t matter how restless I am, or what mood I am in a new Seanan McGuire book will always hit the mark.

As such I make an exception. So here is a review.

download (1)Half Off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire

Half Off Ragnarok is the third in the Price family cryptozoology series which kicked off with Discount Armageddon. It picks up after the events that left Verity dating a member of the covenant and her cuckoo cousin Sarah badly mentally damaged from saving Verity’s life.

The third book moves location and focus, picking up with Alex Price, Verity’s brother who is working in a reptile house at a zoo and tracking the population decline of amphibians in the area. His work is disrupted by a death at the zoo. Something is turning people to stone and Alex really doesn’t want to believe it’s the local Gorgon community.

Taking a different character POV for the book works brilliantly, not only in keeping the series fresh and interesting, but allowing us to focus on different characters and other elements of the world building. The change helps to really develop the bigger picture.  It’s just as action packed and gripping as ever but Alex approaches things differently to Verity and obviously has other circumstances to deal with, including a small girl who keeps breaking into the zoo to see her fiancé, a king cobra, an assistant whose hair becomes irritated under stress and a sort of girlfriend who is entirely human and doesn’t know who Alex really is.

In all her series Seanan continually nails exactly the things I love about urban fantasy down onto the pages. Investigation, adventure, characters and settings that balance every day familiar with utterly other. The Price books bring all the things of myth and legend into the fore, dragons, gorgons, little froglike things with feathers, staying away from the fae worlds of the Toby Daye books. Her characters continue to be fun, flawed and multi faceted as people rather than endlessly powering up super heroes.

Always well written and tightly plotted this is quite simply some of the best urban fantasy out there.

Review: Chimes at Midnight by Seanan McGuire

chimesThe latest October Daye novel once again raises the stakes for our heroine as Toby’s always tempestuous relationship with the Queen comes to a head.

Toby is investigating the distribution of the incredibly dangerous Goblin Fruit. 100% addictie and eventually deadly to all except purebloods and someone is letting it into the mortal world. When her investigation leaves her faced with banishment and questioning the Queens claim on the throne Toby has to find a way to save herself, reverse the decree and remove the goblin fruit from the streets.

This series never fails to be action packed, fun adventure. Toby and her friends are a fantastic cast of unusual characters and things never go smoothly, but they are resourceful and determined and should not be underestimated. The world Mcguire has built is complex and detailed and manages to blend the modern mortal world with the fae worlds soothly and consistently.

This latest instalment is due out in September 2013 and if you haven’t discovered the series yet go back to the beginning, it’s a treat.

 

Review: Between two Thorns by Emma Newman

imagesI’ve had a run recently of books i’ve really ripped through and another was the first Split Worlds novel by Emma Newman.

From the moment Sam’s beer bladder takes him down a backstreet in Bath in the opening pages I was hooked. A rebellious fae girl determined to make it in the mortal world, family politics, fae lords and ladies up to cut throat shenanigans, a human male in the wrong place at the wrong time and all the murder, mystery and intrigue you would expect from worlds colliding and urban fairy tales.

Newman has created a well considered universe, balancing our reality and the Fae world convincingly, and creating compelling characters and plots, written with a wry humour. Right from the beginning I needed to know what Sam really saw and what Cathy’s fate would be. On finishing my first thought was when is the next one?

if you are looking for a new urban fantasy series that’s about character and adventure then   start here.

Review: Plague Nation by Dana Fredsti

PlagueNationCover_FinalThe second Ashley Parker novel pretty much picks up where Plague Town left off. The wildcards are clearing out pockets of remaining zombies within the quarantine zone, while the reader get to see a series of incidents that are definitely not in the area. The virus has spread.

A tragic incident sends events into a chaotic spiral that climaxes at the end of the book with classic ‘to be continued’ style cliffhangers. Dana manages to deliver satisfying story telling and humour as well as a few new twists to the classic zompoc in these books that leaves you eager for the next one.

The use of zom pop culture references helps remind the reader that these wildcards mostly aren’t experienced army recruits, they are just the people who happen to be immune, so they joke about, they make mistakes, they go back for the cats. it’s part of the joy of these books.

if you are a fan of zombie fiction, or even if you aren’t sure you are, I recommend the Ashley Parker novels.

Review: Zoe Sharp & The Charlie Fox Books

I reviewed the second Charlie Fox book a while ago and I ordered the third and fourth straight away. Some time later I finally had the chance to read them, back to back in record speed.

In Third Strike as Charlie prepares to go back into the field she finds her father is in the States and in trouble. In spite of their troubled relationship Charlie is determined to find out what is going on and soon discovers her parents are in serious danger. As she tries to figure it all out and help them she and her team are in a situation that is getting rapidly more dangerous.

Fourth Day sees Charlie under cover in a cult led by a charismatic and dangerous man, but all is not what it seems and as Charlie delves deeper, determined to find out who the real threat is,

I love these books, they deliver plenty of hard, fast, brilliantly visceral action. Sharp writes great fight scenes and plots with enough twists and turns to add depth to the drama and  make them solid memorable stories. The best thing about them remains Charlie. She’s a great character, far from perfect, too hard on Sean and herself, has a difficult relationship with her family, but she’s more compassionate than she has to be and utterly determined.

If you are struggling to find a thriller that packs enough punch I recommend the Charlie Fox series.

Gun Machine – Warren Ellis

Gun Machine
by Warren Ellis
Pub: Mulholland Books
308 pages

I’m going to cheat a bit with this review. The best way to get some sense of this book is to watch the trailers I’ve embedded below. I could tell you it reads something like if David Cronenberg (in the horror/History Of Violence days) made an episode of CSI. I could liken it to a less drug infused Hunter S. Thomson. Warren Ellis’ writing always puts me in mind of a text analogue of a  Hieronymus Bosch painting, as he conjures an image of hell that’s by turns fascinating, disturbing, and most importantly a bit too close to home. But these comparisons would only get you so far.

I’m going to put you into the capable hands of Wil Wheaton, Ben Templesmith and Jim Batt to get a better flavour of things.

Has that piqued your interest?

I suppose you need to know a it more of the story. I’m going to leave the lead up to that scene alone, and instead tell you what comes after. All those weapons can be traced to an unsolved murder; hundreds of guns, each with its own dead body. And it’s Tallow that’s going to take the fall for finding them, because no one in the police department wants to deal with the politics and PR of all that unnoticed death.

And it’s not just his colleagues and superiors Tallow needs to be wary of, but the owner of the morbid treasure trove, out to reclaim his trophies, and make some fresh corpses on the way.

Tallow isn’t alone in his insane journey down shit creek though. Two CSU’s come along for the ride, with their own brand of madness. Scarly and Bat, really help the book along, with the interplay and dialogue between the three being key to elevating the book.

Set in a future that feels a mere handful of tomorrows away, there are tiny nods to technology that could be just around the corner, without pushing the book anywhere close to science fiction.

Gun Machine is as much a story of Manhattan as it is a tale of crime, and there are references and mentions that’ll have you reaching for google to track them down.

Warren Ellis’ second fiction book, this feels more grounded than the ambient weird of Crooked Little Vein, and there’s still the feeling of a comic book writer under the surface in the descriptions, and that’s no bad thing.

I’m going to leave you with my recommendation that you give the book a go, and with the second trailer, which is a very different beast from the first, and that’ll make more sense as you read the book.

Dangerous Gifts – Gaie Sebold 2

Dangerous Gifts
By: Gaie Seblod
Pub: Solaris

 

Adele put up a review of this book up couple of weeks ago, and I thought I’d follow it up with my opinion.

The second book featuring Babylon Steel, the eponymous heroine of Gaie Sebold’s first book (reviews here by me and here by Adele), Dangerous Gifts sees her once again forced to deal with trouble she’d rather avoid. The story carries on from the first book, with Babylon becoming the bodyguard to Enthemmerlee, against her better judgement, under the unfortunate confluence of circumstance and financial troubles. This means abandoning the Red Lantern and her crew, and venturing to Incandress, Enthemmerlee’s home plane/world.

Wrapped more in political intrigue than the first book, Dangerous Gifts keeps up a good pace, keeping things nicely rolling along within it’s confined time frame, balancing it’s constituent parts well. With the story primarily taking place on Incandress rather than Scalentine the book has a freshness that the second book of a series sometimes struggles to find.

If I had one complaint about the book it would be that slightly too much of the plot pivots on eavesdropping upon some fortuitous piece of information. While not a bad plot device I can think of four instances where the story changed in a way impossible without Babylon or another character happening to be in the right place at the right time. While this is the case with the plots of all books, the use of eavesdropping broadcasts it over-much.

The above aside the book is very good, the pacing is good, the action scenes work, and the characters feel real, with layered emotion, and the dialogue is great.

Kraken – China Miéville

Kraken
By China Miéville
Pub: Pan Books
481 pages

Kraken is a book I should have got round to reading a long time ago, but it seems strangely appropriate to be talking about it now, with the first footage of a giant squid in it’s natural habitat having been released this week. But less science, onto the book.

Billy Harrow is a man out of his depth, although he’s assured, by some, that it is far deeper than he imagines. A curator at London’s Natural History Museum, he was part of the team responsible for preserving the giant squid that sat at the heart of the Darwin Centre. The 8 meter (ish) long specimen, that one morning simply isn’t there. Someone, or someones has pulled off an  impossible theft.

For the sake of avoiding romanticising the squid (we’re not that kind of site), here is Archie (no, really) in his tank.

Picture taken from The IndependentThe discovery of the theft places Billy at the heart of a conspiracy in a world he doesn’t know exists; a London rife with magicians, cults, prophets, gangs, sects, familiars, and gods. Not to mention the Met’s own small magical task force, the FSRC, the Fundamentalist and Sect-Related Crime Unit. To some of them the squid is more than just a museum curiosity, it’s a creature that holds the apocalypse in it’s tentacled grasp.

China Miéville’s writing style is idosyncratic, and it’ll drive you off if you can’t settle to it. If you can though, the staccato rhythm suits the book incredibly well. There’s much of the uncanny setting left unexplored, with groups, factions and places left as hanging meat hooks to snag in the readers brain, mentioned only as titbits and allusions.

Billy feels well rounded, and his reactions feel like the most markedly real thing in a book full of the unreal. His friends, allies, accomplices and enemies are less pinned down, and better for it, as their mystery only serves to enhance the demarcation between the weirder London and Billy.

And London is as much the star as Billy. There’s the unsettling overlay of the real and unreal in the book that is only tempered by having heard of those places, been in that building or stood in that spot.

There are similarities to be drawn between Kraken and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. Both feature a protagonist unwillingly pulled into a darker, deeper, more magical London, and being changed by the experience. Is it going to appeal to the same people? Undoubtedly yes, although tone and style are far removed. While Neverwhere, though macabre, always had something magical glittering in the darkness, Kraken leans more towards the black cold of the ocean depths; the violence and magic has a different aspect, a rougher edge. There are many characters who simply won’t survive, and the book gains weight and power from the feeling of no one being safe.

I can only recommend Kraken. It’s a fantastic book that takes the reader on an unlikely journey through a supernaturally tinged world that’s a far remove from the usual urban haunts of vampires, zombies and werewovles. The unfamiliarity and the unexpected plot this allows is one of the highlights.

Dangerous Gifts by Gaie Sebold

This is the second Babylon Steel novel and once again it’s a triumph. Seabold’s Madam of the Red Lantern & sword for hire Babylon is, as usual, mixed up in political intrigue she could do without and with her loyalties split between her people and the client. Still money talks and Babylon needs it, urgently.

Babylon manages to blend tough as nails warrior and deeply sensual and sexual woman without either making her less of the other. She’s a great example of being what you want to be and what’s right for you. I don’t normally give much thought to gender politics in books, but if you cast you main characters in a whore house it’s hard to ignore. Seabold got it right.

I love this series not just for that though, but for the intrigue, the action, the wonderful full entertaining characters, the sheer joy of it really. I settled down with this at Christmas and flew through it. Strongly recommended if you like the feel of Urban Fantasy but want something a little different.

Review: Midnight Blue-Light Special by Seanan McGuire

Midnight Blue-Light Special
by Seanan McGuire
pub by DAW March 2013

Ok this one is a little early I know, but I couldn’t wait to read it and I certainly couldn’t wait three months to talk about it. Odd moment of wonderful synchronicity, the day before this arrived I was scouring my shelves (full of things I haven’t read yet) looking for something to read and thinking, I could do with something along the lines of ‘Discount Armageddon’. Next day the sequel pops through the door. I may have squeaked.

Anyway the book. It’s the second Verity Price novel but if you missed Discount Armageddon you could easily start here (then go back, because you’ll want to). It wouldn’t matter so much. Seanan produces exactly the sort of Urban Fantasy I love, a little humour, a lot of action, a touch of romance and this series delivers just as the Toby Daye books do, although the tone is a little more upbeat and fun.

Verity has been trained as a cryptozoologist from birth, a bit like a monster social worker and occasionally executioner, but she’s always wanted to dance. Now living on the East Coast away from her parents for a year (part of an agreement to let her choose her own path) she is torn between wanting to be her own person and the reputation and duty that comes with being a Price.

In her second outing, her year away is drawing to a close and the safety of every non human thing in her City is under threat from the monster hunters The Covenant. Unsure who she can trust and facing her toughest challenge yet, Verity has a choice between walking away from everything she knows or risking her life and giving up her dream.

I had my own dilemma with this one, read faster to know what happens, or read slowly to savour it. I am impatient so I went through it fast. It’s another superb offering from McGuire that perfectly hits its mark.

I’ve read a fair few of Seanan’s books now and they never let me down. A quick adventure, mixing warmth and fun with thrills and tension, characters that are easy to connect with (I particularly liked Istas with her bring on the mayhem and maiming attitude) and writing that carries you through everything smoothly delivering you to an exciting and satisfying conclusion.