The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway Reviewed by Sara Patterson

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The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway

Reviewed by Sara Patterson

ISBN: 0099519976 (Paperback)

Windmill Books — 592 pages. Audiobook/Hardcover/Ebook also available.

The Book:

Imagine a technology that can erase the molecular building blocks, the information, of matter itself— making it simply “go away.” What would humanity do with such an amazing accomplishment? Why, turn it into a weapon, of course. A weapon capable of winning wars… and ultimately changing the face of the world forever.

It is in the aftermath of the terrible “Go-Away War,” that we meet the main character along with his childhood best friend and fellow ex-special forces solider Gonzo Lubitsch and their compatriots—members of the Haulage & HazMat Emergency Civil Freebooting Company. The team is recruited by Jorgmund, a mysterious and powerful corporation with seemingly endless influence, to protect the world’s greatest asset.

The war and its “Go Away bombs” had an unexpected side effect: Wisps of code-less matter, dubbed “stuff”, sweep across the world and, when it comes in contact with human dreams—or nightmares—, it solidifies and becomes reality. But Jorgmand had found a solution to this problem in the form of FOX, a chemical that neutralizes the effects of “stuff” and makes the surrounding areas familiar and safe. The Jorgmund Pipe, a pipeline network which loops the entire world like a belt, distributes the FOX, thus keeping a small population of humanity able to live relatively normal lives—until now. Someone has set fire to the Jorgmund pipe, and it is up to the Haulage & HazMat Emergency Civil Freebooting Company to find out who and stop them.

The Review:

When I started The Gone-Away World, I can say that it was not the sort of book I usually read. For starters, I had trouble bonding with the nameless (and for the most part unremarkable) main character despite the fact that the novel follows him as he recounts nearly his entire life and then some. There were also various tangents throughout the novel—mostly political and theological themed but also one very long backstory for a very minor side-character—that were, quite literally, sleep-inducing.

That said, the world that Harkaway built, destroyed, and built again was fascinating. The complex network of events and characters raised some very intriguing questions. Some seemed unimportant and others downright ridiculous given the state of the world, but I was eager to see how all the threads would finally come together. Which brings me to my final praise for The Gone-Away World. Though the epic moment of clarity is a long time coming, Harkness more than delivers in the end—and with a kick-ass fight scene to boot.

In short, The Gone-Away World is an investment, in both time and thought. But, in this reader’s opinion, it was a challenge well worth it.

Carniepunk: an anthology by Gallery Books Reviewed by Kristin Luna

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Carniepunk: an anthology by Gallery Books

Reviewed by Kristin Luna

ISBN: 1476714150 (Paperback)

Gallery Books — 440 pages. Ebook also available.

Are you into some weird stuff? Good, because Carniepunk is into you.

The Book

In this anthology of carnies, horror, and big tents, various urban fantasy authors join together to tell you all about the creepy things that happen within the traveling entertainment world. Here are four stories featured that give future readers a good taste of the tales they can expect:

“Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid, and the Open, Lovely Sea” by Seanan McGuire. In this well-written backwoods carnival folk story, Ada and Duncan try to convince the townies of Huntsville to visit the Miller Family Carnival, which boasts of having the Alabama Mermaid, Ada’s mother. Little do they know, Ada’s mother has history in Huntsville. Will Ada inherit her mother’s fate?

“A Chance in Hell” by Jackie Kessler. Wherein an incubus tries to trick ex-demon Jezzy into giving up her soul while it gives her oral pleasure. Naturally (and frankly, who doesn’t) Jezzy goes to a traveling show afterwards to sulk, but ends up having to kill a demon and save her friend instead.

“The Sweeter the Juice” by Mark Henry. A transitioning male to female transsexual can only continue her process if she brings her doctor a new street drug, Zed, so he can study it. Problem is, there’s a world full of zombies out there and people willing to do just about anything for a high.

“Werewife” by Jaye Wells. This story is just as it sounds, but with the inclusion of the husband’s point of view as well. There’s just enough marital believability that I wondered if my husband would bury my half-eaten kills should I turn into a werewife at some point.

Some of the best stories in this anthology have a flavor akin to Geek Love, Kathrine Dunn’s tale of a side-show family, in that they show an in depth view of the camaraderie of a unknown world within our own. However, some of the other stories share some qualities of C-horror films that are released straight to video. It should be noted many of these short stories are continuations, stories between books, or parts of a particular series written by the authors.

The Authors

Authors featured in this anthology are Rachel Caine, Delilah S. Dawson, Jennifer Estep, Kelly Gay, Kevin Hearne, Mark Henry, Hillary Jacques, Jackie Kessler, Seanan McGuire, Kelly Meding, Allison Pang, Nicohol D. Peeler, Rob Thurman, and Jaye Wells.

The Rating

On a scale of all of your niece’s activities you’re obligated to go to, best being her Quinceañera (there was alcohol there) and worst being a babysitting session when she was three and had explosive diarrhea, I give Carniepunk an elementary school holiday play. The one girl in your niece’s class who sings like Christina Aguilera knocks it out of the park, as expected. That one smelly kid forgot his lines, as expected. Overall, an okay and acceptable way to spend one’s time when there was nothing better to do on a Thursday night.

Interesting Quote

From Jaye Wells’ “The Werewife”: “So instead of telling her husband she’d rather brush her teeth with barbed wire than go stare at the ridiculous freaks in the red-and-black tent, she pasted on a smile and let him lead the way. Just like when we have sex, she thought – another observation she wisely kept to herself.”

Black Dog Short Stories/Pure Magic by Rachel Neumeier Reviewed by Stephanie Burgis

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Black Dog Short Stories and Pure Magic by Rachel Neumeier

Reviewed by Stephanie Burgis

ISBNs: 9781908844842 (Black Dog Short Stories Ebook), 9781513038827 (Pure Magic Ebook)

Anara Publishing — 138 and 323 pages, respectively

When Rachel Neumeier’s Black Dog was first published in 2014, it was the most interesting and original werewolf book that I’d read in a long time. In multiple re-reads since then, it’s become one of my favorite werewolf novels of all time. So I found it particularly disappointing when Angry Robot Books closed down the imprint that had published it, Strange Chemistry, and it looked like readers might not get a sequel after all.

Luckily, Neumeier decided to publish the sequel herself, along with a collection of tie-in short stories. Black Dog Short Stories is a collection of pieces featuring the characters of Black Dog, and it’s utterly charming and fun. I wouldn’t recommend it as an entryway for new readers to her series, simply because there is so little information given at the beginning to set up the characters and their situation. Neumeier takes it for granted that readers will already understand the setup and recognize all the characters, which, of course, new readers can’t do. But if you have already read and loved Black Dog, this entire book will read like a literary box of chocolates, every one of them sweet and delicious. The books in this series are emotional and intense, but these short stories include lighthearted and funny adventures like “Christmas Shopping” as well as darker, more heart-wrenching pieces like “A Learning Experience.” The final story even provides startling insights into the backstory of one of the more enigmatic characters in Black Dog. Fans of the series won’t want to miss it.

Better yet, even new readers can easily start the series with the second book, Pure Magic. While Black Dog alternated between the viewpoints of fifteen-year-old Natividad and her two brothers, this book introduces a brand-new character, Justin, an older teenager who only learns about the hidden world of the Black Dogs after being attacked by vicious “strays” in the first chapter. In this version of contemporary America, there are two different types of werewolves: the lawless Strays and the Black Dogs who live under the law of Dimilioc. Both of them are irresistibly drawn to the Pure, witches who have the ability to tame Black Dogs’ demonic rage. Strays are drawn to murder any of the Pure whom they discover; Dimilioc is sworn to protect them; and Justin, unbeknownst to himself, is the first Pure boy that anyone has ever heard of, with a natural ability for magic that he’s never known about.

When the Black Dogs of Dimilioc rescue Justin from the Strays’ attack, they insist on taking him back with them to their remote home for his own protection, despite all of his furious protests. Raised by a Pure mother who kept him safe but never shared any of her secrets with him before her death, Justin is horrified by the sudden discovery of his own talents and new limitations, as they turn his world upside-down. Natividad and her brothers saw Dimilioc as a safe haven in Black Dog, but in Pure Magic, Justin fights against it as a prison, no matter how well-meaning the Master of Dimilioc might be. While Natividad took the strict rules of Black Dog society for granted, Justin is horrified by them – and by the discovery that, for the Black Dogs of Dimilioc, the most prized mate possible is one of the Pure. There is only one mature female Black Dog at Dimilioc, the fierce and prickly Keziah, and she and Justin are equally resistant to the idea of being pressured into mating…even as they are reluctantly attracted to each other.

But even as Justin and Keziah circle warily around each other, and Natividad negotiates her own careful romance with another Black Dog, far darker things are happening in the world around them. The Black Dogs of Dimilioc were terribly depleted by their recent war with the Blood Kin. They may have defeated the vampires, but it was a Pyrrhic victory. Now, the Master of Dimilioc is struggling desperately to maintain safety and stability in the region, his power spread thin with only a few mature Black Dogs left under his command. Not only are there vicious strays whose violence must be controlled for the sake of the Pure and the ordinary humans, but murderous new interlopers are flooding in now, at his moment of weakness, to challenge him for territory. Sweet Natividad’s own Pure magic is also beginning to show disturbing, dark taints…and even worse, there are growing hints that the Blood Kin may not have been entirely defeated after all.

As half the Black Dogs are drawn into a desperate battle on the East Coast, Natividad and Justin find themselves trapped on another side of the country with only two Black Dogs to help them against a power terrifying enough to require a whole army. If they are to survive, Natividad will have to risk her soul with her rapidly darkening magic, and Justin will have to embrace his true nature, no matter how dangerous that might be.

Pure Magic mixes warmth, humor, and romance with some of the most effectively chilling scenes I’ve ever read, along with an inexorable sense of rising tension that becomes absolutely stomach-clenching by the end of the book. It’s a perfect followup to Black Dog, but it would also stand securely on its own for any new readers to the series. While it wraps up all of its most important threads with a satisfying sense of closure, I am not-so-secretly hoping that Neumeier will decide to write more and more books set in this world. Highly recommended.

All That Glows by Ryan Graudin Reviewed by Kayla Dean

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All That Glows by Ryan Graudin

Reviewed by Kayla Dean

ISBN: 0062187414 (Paperback)

Harper Teen — 463 pages. Ebook also available.

The Book

When fairies and humans come together, things can get tricky. But when they fall in love? Boundaries are crossed and life gets even more complicated for everyone involved. This is exactly the case for the main characters of Ryan Graudin’s All That Glows, a fairy romance rich in urban lore.

Once upon a time, the Fairy Court worked alongside King Arthur, and their leader swore an oath to protect the English Crown from all supernatural forces. What they got in return were magical powers which made the immortal Fae even more invincible. Fae inhabit human bodies, but they are also shapeshifters, magic users, and invisible to humans. Fae are made up of elemental force, destined to live forever.

Emrys, a centuries-old Fae, loves the Highlands of England where the fairy court dwells, far from technology and the strain of pollution. When Emrys is once again asked to rejoin the Faery Guard, she has to take on one of her greatest challenges: guarding the Prince of England.

Prince Richard is known for his bad boy ways: he parties too much, comes home in the middle of the night hung over, and almost never does what he’s told. When he graduates from Eton, he knows that the time for him to be King is drawing closer, but all he wants to do is ignore all the rules. His parents and sister are fed up with his partying, and want him to focus on his duties, but it’s much easier for him to block out what makes him afraid.

It isn’t long after meeting Richard that Emrys wants to know him as more than his invisible guard. Humans don’t know that Fae exist. The Fae must veil themselves at all times while they guard their humans from Green Women, Banshees, and Black Dogs: all things that Emrys has seen before on the ancient moors of England. But a sinister spirit is after the monarchy. The Fae think it is an ancient one who craves the magical blood of England’s royalty, and wants to break down the barriers between the Fae and their beloved London.

Emrys and Richard quickly form a bond over their mutual rejection of responsibility and fear of the future. Before long, they start to go everywhere together, flying high over the city in The London Eye and taking in the world from the banks of the Thames. Emrys and Richard go from the seedy bars on the sketchy end of town to the polo matches of the rich and famous. But Richard can’t escape the paparazzi and the pressure of the Crown looming over his head. Emrys can’t get away from her fellow Fae and the responsibility to act as a leader over her younger peers crushes her. The worst thing is that every day she spends with Richard, Emrys falls hopelessly in love with him. There’s just one problem: if she falls for a human, shell have to give up her immortality and her powers forever. But if Richard feels he can’t love her forever, Emrys can’t promise her heart to the young, handsome prince.

The Rating

Graudin’s writing is heavy with descriptors. We have a distinct view of London and the environs that the characters experience through the writer’s descriptions of the city. We see through Emrys eyes the contrast between the green countryside of England and London, which has its own nods to the past, even as it is propelling towards the future. The pages of the book are also filled with long-winded similes that give a little too much weight to descriptions that occasionally slow down the narrative. There were moments that could have moved along more swiftly.

I did really like the dynamic between Emrys and Richard. I almost got the sense that they fell for each other over their mutual love of England. One of the most endearing parts of the book is when the two of them dance to records together in Richard’s room. The gesture was simple, but this scene showed us that Richard is more than a partier: he is a good guy who loves his family and wants the best for his country. Which brings me to my next point: Richard’s role as a bad boy was a little half-hearted. At the beginning, we are made to think of him as a bad boy, but we never really get the sense that Richard is as bad as people say he is. We see girls fawning over him, but dent meet heartbroken exes. We see that he drinks way more than he should, but not how it alters his behavior. We see him run from his responsibilities, but he never does anything that a normal teenager would not do.

Richard is a good guy, but he isn’t a bad boy. Before he even knows Emrys, he defends her from a manipulative man. Later on, he gives her a cute nickname, Embers. Richard is really more of a misguided future leader who doesn’t want to accept his place as a royal. But his love for Emrys makes him a better man. The only thing that was not clear to me is why Emrys fell for Richard in the first place. We are made to believe that Emrys is tired of all the rules that tie her in to being a fairy. It turns out that even an immortal fairy is not immune to the gaze of a handsome prince. And even if she gives up one claim to royalty, she may soon gain another crown.

As for whether I’d recommend the book, I think there are other reads that could better occupy reader’s time. What bothered me most about the story was that the characters just weren’t all that distinctive. As mentioned earlier, Richard is described as a bad boy, but except for a few drinking stints, we never see the true extent of his behavior. I didn’t really get the sense that it was difficult for Emrys to change him. Plus, the love story didn’t make me feel anything. I didn’t really care that much if these two ended up together.

For being as old as she is, Emrys sure acts like a teenage girl. The plot wavers between mushy love story and fairy adventure, and it didn’t toe the line effectively. If you like Marissa Marr or Aprilynn Pike, and have a bent for fairy novels, this book might be worth a try, but otherwise, move right along your to-read list to the next book you’ve been eagerly anticipating.

Red Hot Steele by Alex P. Berg Reviewed by Kristin Luna

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Red Hot Steele by Alex P. Berg

Reviewed by Kristin Luna

ISBN: 1942274033 (Paperback)

Batdog Press — 297 pages. Ebook also available.

Jake Daggers. Tough, grimy cop. Used to roughing up a dark-elf or two. Carries a big stick, and her name is Daisy — Daggers’ trusty nightstick.

The Book

In his years as a beat cop, Jake Daggers has seen it all and thought nothing could surprise him. Nothing, that is, until an attractive half-elf walks into his precinct as his new partner.

Shay Steele has a lot to prove. She’s young, looked down upon for being half-elf, and she’s a woman in a male-dominated profession. But her keen power of observation helps put her in the big leagues as a detective. Unfortunately, she’s paired with misogynistic Jake Daggers.

Despite their differences, Daggers and Steele must work together to solve a murder. A man has been found with a large hole burned through his chest. All signs point to his soon-to-be father-in-law, who happens to be a fire mage. However, things get a bit hairy when the two detectives start piecing together the mystery, where no one is who they seem.

Red Hot Steele has all the virtues of a hard-boiled detective story with a surprising injection of well-timed humor. Red Hot Steele doesn’t have the regular cast of characters. Dark-elves, trolls, and other scum of the underworld also grace its pages. If you like your mystery and crime novels with an imaginative twist, this may be the book for you.

The Author

Alex P. Berg has a PhD in nuclear engineering by day and writes fantasy, mystery and science fiction by night. Red Hot Steele is his first book, but the next two books in the series, Cold Hard Steele and Time to Steele, are now available for purchase. He currently has three other books available.

The Rating

All art is subjective, and the best I can do is give my thoughts and opinions. On an arbitrary scale of roller coasters, I give Red Hot Steele a very commendable Detonator. When you first get on the Detonator, you get strapped into this heavy-duty seat and you’re wondering just what you’re in for. But then you shoot into the sky at 45 miles-per-hour and you’re in awe of how fun it is to be weightless for a while. The same is true for Red Hot Steele. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but found myself enjoying the pace and characters, especially Jake Daggers. But also like the Detonator, the ride gets slightly predictable. You shoot up into the air, you go down, you go up, and then down, and the ride is done. However, that didn’t stop me from enjoying the witty banter between Daggers and Steele.

Interesting fact: Jake Daggers has a son, but he doesn’t see him often.

Interesting quote: “Daisy is the worst kind of woman, a heartbreaker and a home wrecker, but in the literal sense not the figurative. she’s a foot and a half of steely eyes and cold shoulders, and she’s got the meanest slap in the seven boroughs. She’s my nightstick.”

City of Fae by Pippa DaCosta Reviewed by Kayla Dean

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City of Fae by Pippa DaCosta

Reviewed by Kayla Dean

ISBN: 9781408868720 (Ebook)

Bloomsbury Spark — 336 pages.

When we conjure up a mental image of a fairy, most of us would dream of an ethereal, benign figure with wings. Maybe she can fit in the palm of your hand, or she is tall, lean, and beautiful beyond her years. But there’s something different about Pippa DaCosta’s view of fairies. City of Fae certainly doesn’t read like a typical fairy novel.

If anything, this novel could easily be compared to a comic book. The only difference is that instead of animations, you have three hundred pages of urban fantasy to draw you in. At the center of all the action is Alina, an out-of-work reporter from America. This story, on some level, is like a comic book in that an ordinary person meets up with an extraordinary world. It’s also an urban fantasy based in London. While we don’t get much by way of scenery and deep characterization of the place, we do see that the setting is integral to the plot because the Fae burrow under London, away from the humans.

Alina finds herself on the subway platform with no memory of how she got there. She’s lost and alone, and the guy sitting next to her isn’t who she thinks he is. Enter Reign, the resident bad-boy Fae, who just so happens to be a rock-star. He’s also gorgeous, but there’s just one problem: he’s a public enemy. For some reason, the Fae police are after him, and it’s up to Alina to find out why. If she can get a cover story, she might just be able to get her job back.

But obviously, nothing is simple in a world where Fae and humans are on the edge of an epic clash. It was only a few generations ago that Fae were expelled from their world and sent into ours. Humanity’s only choice was to accept their place in our world. But the cracks are starting to show: someone was murdered at Reign’s party. But who killed her? Alina wants to know.

Things get even hairier when the evil Fae queen sends thousands of spiders after Alina to trap her. Reign and Alina travel to the Fae’s underground city, but that only makes the queen angrier. And the mysteries only keep piling up. Alina starts to wonder if a front page story is even worth it. Worse yet, her dreams and memories make her question her identity. And after some serious hell breaks loose, a local detective gets involved in the case, putting everything at risk for Alina.

The most interesting part of this story was the plot twist that DaCosta gave Alina. I did not see it coming, and it’s honestly too good to share. But I can tell you one thing: Alina is not who you think she is, and the plot to make her believe the lies are elaborate.

Reign is not really a mysterious character in the novel; he really does not have that much depth. While it seems that DaCosta wanted to create a multilayered, intense, and brooding man for Alina to love, what results is an unfortunate trope of a bad-boy millionaire rock star who loves an ordinary girl.

Throughout the novel, DaCosta suggests that Reign and Alina’s love is fraught. Fae harvest something called draiocht from humans, and they need it to live. Unfortunately for the couple, Alina’s touch affects Reign in ways that neither of them can explain. The problem with their relationship is that it isn’t terribly compelling. Since Alina has a shifting, vague identity, and Reign is something of a playboy, we don’t get a strong sense of why they care about one another.

Also, the blurb tells us about the four keepers that were powerful enough to keep the evil queen locked away from the people, yet this seems like a subplot to Alina’s personal issues. While this could have been a great, complex element of Fae history that DaCosta could have explored, it didn’t leave us with a lot of information about why there had to be four keepers. Before the last keeper died, he didn’t really explain to Alina why he was the only one that kept the queen locked up.

If you are afraid of spiders, I can honestly say that you will find the queen terrifying. She’s not a human-shaped Fae: she’s a spider! And if that isn’t terrifying enough, she is larger than a person and has thousands of tiny arachnids following her around.

DaCosta’s vision of fairies will definitely give you the chills. I recommend reading this book if you like evil fairies, spiders, or comic books. This might seem like a strange fusion of ideas, but I would go as far as to say that this book might really be a hit with the right reader. However, go in at your own risk if you do not like bad-boy rockstars as the main love interest. Some people might find the tropes and unusual fantasy elements off-putting, but other people will love its quirky appeal.

After you read this book, you might have a reformed image of fairies, and a different sense of London’s underground tunnels. Maybe next time you crave an urban fantasy, you might want to check out Pippa DaCosta’s City of Fae to get your own spin on events in this cross-genre fantasy.

Loose Changeling by A.G. Stewart Reviewed by Kristin Luna

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Loose Changeling by A.G. Stewart

Reviewed by Kristin Luna

ISBN: 9780692356920 (Paperback)

Igneous Books — 340 pages. Ebook also available.

When doorways between the mortal world and the Fae world begin popping up unpredictably, the responsibility lands on Nicole to figure out how to close them, and quick.

The Book

Nicole is a strong-willed 32-year-old woman living in Portland with a lazy husband and a high-paying but dead-end job. Life had been fairly normal for Nicole until she caught her husband, Owen, cheating on her with another woman, and she turned the woman into a mouse.

With the help of a Fae living in the human world (and also a super-handsome stud named Kailen), Nicole discovers that her Fae powers have manifested, making her half-human, half-Fae: a Changeling. And, as Kailen helps her to understand, Changelings are powerful. So powerful that they are outlawed. In order to avoid death, and for her status as a Changeling to be accepted in the Fae world, she must fight in the Arena to the death.

Meanwhile, someone has been opening doorways between the human and Fae realms. Fairy creatures make their way into Nicole’s work, hobgoblins attack her with regularity, and someone or something strange has been murdering people in Portland. As a Changeling, Nicole is the only person in the human world or Fae world that can close these doorways and figure out how to stop them from opening.

Loose Changeling is a fast-paced fantasy told by Nicole in first person. Andrea Stewart’s strong female protagonist is reminiscent of Jay Wells’ heroines, and she’s as competent and confident as the character Kate Beckett from the TV series Castle.

The Author

Andrea Stewart won first place in the Writers of the Future contest, and her short fiction has been featured in Daily Science fiction, Galaxy’s Edge, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. She lives in Northern California with her husband and likes to tend to her suburban farm when she’s not writing or painting. Her inspirations include many contemporary fantasy and science fiction authors, including Brandon Sanderson, J.K. Rowling, and Jim Butcher. According to her website, Andrea is currently working on the second book in the Changeling Wars series, Spare Changeling.

My Rating and Overall Opinion

On an arbitrary scale of 90’s pop divas, I give Loose Changeling a full-on Mariah Carey. Mariah released nine albums in those ten years, and I can only hope Andrea Stewart can be as prolific so I can keep reading her books. Mariah Carey’s incredibly smooth voice shows off a wide-range. Sure, the lyrics are nothing too serious or heavy, but boy, does she make singing that well look easy. Similarly, Andrea Stewart makes writing a complex story seem carefree and conversational, keeping your interest piqued at every turn. While I see this series appealing more to a female audience, that doesn’t make it any less engrossing or page-turning as a Brandon Sanderson novel. I’m calling it now: Andrea Stewart is the 1990’s Mariah Carey of modern urban fantasy.

Interesting Fact

Merlin was also a Changeling and was Nicole’s predecessor.

Interesting Quote

“Mark [Nicole’s brother-in-law] had given me one of his belts, which I’d repurposed to hold the items I wanted to take into the Arena. I had the butter knife, the metal coaster, a rag from the kitchen, a few of Tristan’s toys, a spray bottle of old perfume, and the gun in a holster. I didn’t feel dangerous, but I felt prepared.”

The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey Reviewed by Stephanie Burgis

The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey

Reviewed by Stephanie Burgis

ISBN: 0349002134 (Paperback)

Atom Books, Little Brown UK — 368 pages. Ebook also available.

If you love secret, hidden magical worlds that coexist with our real one, The Girl at Midnight is the book for you. With hidden rooms in the New York Public Library, a race of bird-people with gorgeous plumage (who live in tunnels underneath the streets of New York City), and a race of dragon-scaled people centered in rural Scotland, this book is filled with the whisper of a magic that we might just be able to glimpse if we only looked harder at the people around us.

Echo is a human girl who escaped her abusive home to live secretly in the New York Public Library when she was only seven. She was discovered and adopted not by human social services but by the Ala, an ancient, wise, and compassionate woman who is one of the leaders of the Avicen — a hidden race of people with feathers instead of hair and easy access to magic. Unbeknownst to the humans who live in New York City above them, the Avicen are locked in a vicious, centuries-old war with the Drakharen, a dragon-like race with the patterns of scales showing on their skin and magical powers of their own. Most young Avicen and Drakharen women and men don’t even know exactly why the war began, but over time, it has turned into a blood-feud in which both sides are painted as monsters worthy of genocide.

Echo, now seventeen and working as a thief for various magical employers, has always tried to ignore the war. But like it or not, she is about to become a key player.

Raised among the Avicen but never completely accepted by most of them, Echo is desperate to prove that she belongs. When the Ala asks her to go on a quest for the mythical phoenix (a creature that would have the power to end the war forever, but which would be apocalyptically dangerous in the wrong hands), she leaps at the opportunity. However, there are other leaders of the Avicen who are more brutal and ruthless than the Ala. They will do anything to get the phoenix for themselves, as will the Drakharen. Unbeknownst to Echo, the Drakharen prince is also desperate to find the phoenix. While his own motives may be pure, there are lethal plots brewing in his own family that will work against all of his hopes for peace.

As Echo sets out on a worldwide scavenger hunt for the phoenix, following a century-old pathway of clues, the richly-described settings leap gracefully between countries and continents. Grey seamlessly works magic into each new setting, from the New York Public Library to the Louvre to the Black Forest and more. For me, that perfect melding of the magical and the real, combined with the sheer fun of the virtual tourism, was my favorite part of the book. I occasionally wondered, as I read, why museums like the Louvre and the Met didn’t have more high-tech security, but it’s easy to ignore questions like that when the story itself is so enjoyable. (And who knows? Maybe their security really is that basic.)

Of course, Echo and the Drakharen prince soon come into conflict in their hunt for the phoenix — a conflict which turns into an uneasy alliance as they bring together a small group of Avicen and Drakharen men and women to join their quest. All of them have been raised to hate each other, but they are forced into a tenuous alliance as power-hungry armies from both sides of the war close in on them. Relationships form, betrayals mount, and Echo (despite having left behind an Avicen boyfriend at the beginning of her quest) comes to find the notorious Drakharen prince horrifyingly appealing after all.

This book is being cross-marketed in both the adult and the YA fantasy genres, much like Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. Honestly, it’s hard not to be reminded of that trilogy, in which another human girl was raised by one group of supernatural creatures and caught up in their ancient war with another group. However, Taylor’s trilogy reveled in its gorgeous, lyrical language, while Grey’s Girl at Midnight is filled with fast, snappy banter and written at a breakneck pace. That difference in writing style gives the book a very different tone.

In the first half of the book, I sometimes found the nonstop banter and reflexive snark of the heroine to be slightly off-putting, as I wondered exactly how three-dimensional any of the characters really were. However, the emotions in the second half of the book ring true throughout, and all of the characters are explored in far more depth as events develop. The climax is intensely emotional as well as exciting, and the ending sets up a fascinating turn of events to be explored in later books.

If you’re a fan of secret worlds, fabulous locations, and fast-paced adventure, do try out The Girl at Midnight. It’s a fun opening chapter in an intriguing new series.

Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger Reviewed by Kayla Dean

Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger

Reviewed by Kayla Dean

ISBN-13: 978-0316190107

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers — 307 pages. Available in paperback, hardcover, and e-book.

Snatch your tea from the kettle, and don’t forget your best deadly accessory. Gail Carriger brings her signature snappy style and sharp wit from her Parasol Protectorate Series into a new set of stories. Etiquette and Espionage, the first in the Finishing School Series, is everything you could hope for in an action and adventure steampunk novel.

The Finishing School Series is set in the same world as Parasol Protectorate, only this time the main character is teenager Sophronia Temminick, a troublesome, but outrageously smart girl who always seems to get into trouble. When it seems her behavior couldn’t be more difficult, Sophronia’s mother sends her away to finishing school on the moors of England. But little does she know, the Miss Geraldine’s School for Young Ladies is not quite the polite and mannered learning environment her mother would have wanted for her daughter. Instead, it’s everything Sophronia could have wanted.

It turns out “finishing school” is just that: the girls must learn how to “finish” anyone or anything that needs to be finished. This typical term is, in fact, a play on words: the girls are trained assassins, learning under the guise of a ladies’ school for manners.

But on the way to school, Sophronia and her new friends, Dimity and Pillover, discover that the woman posing as Miss Geraldine is just an imposter. The school never sends out the real Miss Geraldine; she doesn’t even know that her school is a training ground for assassins. It’s part of their training to fool her.

Highway men from the air –called flywaymen in the story– immediately take over the carriage, and keep asking for something — a prototype. The student imposter, Monique de Pelouse, pretends she doesn’t understand, but doesn’t try to defeat the men. It is Sophronia who saves the day, drives the carriage to safety, and gets everyone away from the flywaymen and their dirigibles. However, the trouble isn’t over yet, and Sophronia still has much to learn at finishing school. We certainly get our fair share of interesting lessons.

From learning how to curtsy to understanding which knife they can hide under their petticoats, the girls start to learn all the tricks to being a spy at their first year of finishing school. But Sophronia must first prove herself. While everyone else has a family history at the school, Sophronia is what they call a covert recruit. She was referred by someone, but who? It is a mystery until the very end, and it isn’t the person you expect.

We also get a view into the world underneath the ladylike classrooms of the dirigible school. After Sophronia gains a mechanimal pet, she makes her way to the boiler room to feed him and meets some of the most interesting characters in the book. We meet Soap, a teenage boy who immediately befriends Sophronia, and nine-year-old child genius Vieve, a teacher’s nephew with a love of trousers and a knack for invention. With Dimity, Vieve, and Soap, Sophronia must discover why the flywaymen want the prototype, and what it means for England. The answer has something to do with technology — something we have today, yet the world didn’t yet have in Victorian London.

While in the Parasol Protectorate Series, we had a keen sense of London and its surroundings, we get more by way of allusions to the city in Etiquette. In this novel, we have a keen sense of the English moors around them: the Academy is a dirigible that floats over the countryside, guarded over by a werewolf and vampire, plus more than a few mysterious teachers at the school. They are constantly in hiding behind clouds.

And while we have only a glimmer of some of the more supernatural elements of the world, it seems like the sequels will delve in further and bring us into the world of the vampires and werewolves. We do get allusion to the Parasol Protectorate series when one of the other girls, Sidheag, tells Sophronia that she is the great-great-great-great granddaughter of a Lord Maccon. It isn’t clear if this is the same Lord Maccon from Soulless, although if it is, then we are very far into the future.

Carriger has such a strong voice, and it really comes through in the novel. While some reviewers stated that they though some aspects of the novel were silly, like the girls’ training in fanning their eyelashes, Carriger really has a knack for satire. At one point, Monique tells Sophronia and Dimity that the boys at the evil genius school made silver and wood hair sticks for one girl, along with an exploding wicker chicken. When Sophronia asks, “Goodness, what’s that for?”, Dimity simply replies, “Who doesn’t want an exploding wicker chicken?” We never get the answer, but we do have our fair share of laughs.

By taking her characters into sometimes unlikely and ridiculous situations –in the climax, Dimity brings Sophronia a cheese pie in the middle of a fight– we can laugh right along with the characters, and understand that this is just part of the world of steampunk.

Carriger is a specialist in comedies of manners, and she does not disappoint in this story. By throwing in a little bit of the ridiculous, Carriger cleverly carries the novel and unfailingly entertains the reader. We can certainly keep in mind something that one of the teachers quite cleverly pointed out: “No one said learning etiquette and espionage would be easy, my dear.” We can all agree to that.

Carus & Mitch by Tim Major Reviewed by Kristin Luna

Carus & Mitch cover

Carus & Mitch by Tim Major

Reviewed by Kristin Luna

E-book, ISBN: 0692343377

Omnium Gatherum, February 23, 2015 -– 88 pages. Also available in paperback.

Like the life and college, the novella Carus & Mitch will leave you with more questions than answers. But the question you’ll replay over and over in your mind, the question that will keep you up at night will be, “Oh Carus, what have you done?”

The Book

Fifteen-year-old Carus and seven-year-old Mitch have been barricaded in their house for most of their lives. Just before the world-wide collapse, their mother had moved them to their uncle’s house in the countryside of northern Britain, and it’s been their home ever since. But when their mother died, the responsibility of staying safe from outside dangers fell directly on them, and with crushing weight.

Carus’ job is to take care of Mitch. She tries to fill the shoes of their mother, doing the best she can to set a routine: check on the chickens (which moved into the dinning room because they weren’t safe outside), clean the house, trade chickens and eggs with Jom, and check the barricades.

The only person left in the world that they know of is Jom, with whom they trade eggs for canned goods. They’ve never seen Jom, but must set eggs outside their house’s strongholds in order to receive their daily food. When Carus oversleeps one morning due to severe tiredness and headaches, she wakes to realize they’ve missed leaving eggs out for Jom, meaning no food for the day. Determined to never let it happen again, Carus becomes militant about following the rules they’ve created, which in turn makes Mitch more defiant. Mitch wonders why they can’t go outside, why they came to the country in the first place, and Carus can’t seem to answer any of her questions with clarity. In fact, Carus starts losing time, waking up in places she doesn’t remember falling asleep, and becoming more angry each day with her younger sister.

And then, one night, Mitch disappears. Carus falls deeper into her psychosis, revealing hints to the real threat that has kept the sisters trapped in the house nearly all their lives.

Tim Major tells Carus & Mitch through Carus, and as with all 15-year-olds, she’s a somewhat unreliable narrator. Grim, bleak storytelling, paired with simmering tension strikes the same haunting chord as Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, and the overall tone is reminiscent of Room by Emma Donoghue and Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery.”

The Author

Tim Major’s love for speculative fiction and the book We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson influenced him to write Carus & Mitch. Tim enjoys writing stories about the effects of extraordinary events on ordinary people. His short stories have appeared in various science fiction and fantasy magazines, and Carus & Mitch is his first published novella. Tim lives in Oxford with his wife and son.

The Rating

As with all art, there’s a large degree of subjectivity in determining if it’s “good,” or “not good.” The best I can do is share my thoughts and opinions, and rate this book on an arbitrary on a scale of Daniel Day-Lewis films. Aha! This is a trick scale, because there is no “worst” Daniel Day-Lewis film, as they are all the best. Like an undoubtedly great Daniel Day-Lewis film, Carus & Mitch contains true craft and substance. The richness and depth of the characters may keep you up at night thinking about them, wondering what they’re doing now. You’ll speculate and contemplate the truth, knowing that you’ve only just glanced the tip of the iceberg, while much more lurks just under the surface. You’ll finish this novella and immediately start it over again, desperately piecing together the clues. Carus & Mitch will haunt you and leave you strangely wanting more.

Interesting fact: “Carus” and “Mitch” are not their real names.

Interesting quote:

“Is air made from bits of flower?” [Mitch]

“It’s made of lots of things.” [Carus]

She turns. “Like what?”

I try to remember lessons at school. “Oxygen, that’s what your body uses to stay alive. And there’s the bits of flowers and other things, but really, really tiny.” I pause. “And then, um, neon and carbon.”