Book Review: Fire & Heist

fire and heistFire & Heist
by Sarah Beth Durst
Contemporary Fantasy/Young Adult/Urban Fantasy
290 pages
Published December 2018

I picked this up off the library shelf for the title; I took it home for the description. Were-dragon thieves? Awesome. It turns out it’s not that simple. For one, the were-dragons have lost the ability to transform over the years – the last dragon to transform was Sir Francis Drake, and the book is set in modern times, so, at least a couple hundred years have passed. And humans know the were-dragons exist! I suppose without the ability to transform, they’re little more than rich celebrities with parlor tricks. (Immune to fire to certain temperatures, ability to breathe fire.) What humans don’t know is how much the wyverns tend to steal to enrich their hoards. And that some of them can do limited magic.

We open on Sky, sixteen, rattling around her mansion, dealing with her now dysfunctional family of three brothers and their father. Her mother went missing not very long ago, during a heist. The kids have been told she’s gone, she’s alive, she’s not coming back, and to drop the matter. Were-dragon society almost exiled all of them for whatever their mother got into, so they’re all on thin ice. Sky, of course, is having none of this. When she stumbles on a lead for where her mother went, she pursues it, and learns all kinds of secrets.

The book was okay, I suppose. I was a little appalled at were-dragon society, and that the dragons just – bow to the authority of the Council. Dragons should have more spine. The heist part was pretty cool, with Sky and her friends figuring out how to take apart every layer of security piece by piece.

I don’t know. It was a fluffy book, but not a feel-good book, and I just wasn’t that enthused.

From the cover of Fire & Heist:

Leading your first heist is a major milestone in Sky Hawkins’s family – even more so than learning to talk, walk, or do long division. It’s a chance to gain power and acceptance within society. But stealing your first treasure can be complicated – especially when you’re a wyvern, a human capable of transforming into a dragon.

Embarking on a life of crime is never easy, and Sky’s mission uncovers deep secrets about the mother who recently went missing, the real reason her boyfriend broke up with her, and a valuable jewel that could restore her family’s wealth and rank in their community.

With a handpicked crew by her side, Sky knows she has everything she needs to complete her first heist – and get back the people she loves in the process. But instead, she ends up discovering a dark truth about were-dragon society – a truth that is more valuable and dangerous than gold or jewels could ever be.

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Sunday Stuff

Well, I’ve updated a few site pages – added some books to the polyamory list that are on my radar but unread, changed a bit on my About Me page, and some general formatting updates elsewhere. I haven’t had time to sit down and dive into the new tools available to me since upgrading my WordPress account, but that will be soon. I have managed to post almost every day this last week, and I have a few posts scheduled this coming week already. I’m well on my way to posting every day again!

I still have a lot to unpack in the house – mostly books, but I think we need to replace our bookshelves. They were the cheap ones from Target, and they…didn’t survive the move well. They’re kind of rickety now. So most of the books may stay in boxes until we can buy new shelves. I’m still on the lookout for a shelf to complete my reading nook; I want one that is visually interesting, and I just haven’t quite found THE ONE yet.

I’ll try to take some pictures of the house to post next Sunday! Our housewarming party is on Saturday, actually, so I’ll be pretty busy this week trying to get a few last things done in the main living areas before everyone comes over!

Today we turn our last house’s keys in to our landlady, so we are OFFICIALLY DONE with that place. No more getting stuff, no more cleaning, no more dealing with roommates. DONE. That’s a huge relief!

Now I just have to finish putting this place together!

Book Review: The Gutter Prayer

gutter prayerThe Gutter Prayer
by Gareth Hanrahan
Fantasy
518 pages
Published January 2019

Wow. So. Where to start. The Gutter Prayer is definitely epic fantasy, which I haven’t been reading much of lately as I didn’t think I had time. Epic Fantasy is usually big books in long series – and this book could stand completely on its own, though the author says there will be at least one more book.

The Gutter Prayer also does something that I’ve always enjoyed but is somewhat uncommon – the city ITSELF is very much a character here. I attended a panel at last year’s Baltimore Book Festival that talked about Cities as characters which, while not something I’d explicitly realized I liked, was a common thread in a lot of high fantasy/science fiction that I’ve loved. City of Brass and The Courier are good examples. So that was a selling point of The Gutter Prayer.

The book starts with a bang – literally – as the three main characters, Cari, a human thief, Rat, a ghoul, and Spar, a “Rock Man,” are robbing a building when it explodes. (Rock Men are humans who suffer from a magical disease that slowly petrifies them but makes them inhumanly strong.) The action doesn’t let up much, from Rat sneaking through the underbelly of the city, to Spar fighting for his life against his voracious disease while trying to unite the lowlifes of the city, to Cari trying to figure out where her weird visions are coming from. We bounce from monsters kept captive in the deeps, guarded by other monsters, to city politics, to wars between gods on distant shores and closer to home.

The city is central to all of it, hiding secrets and labyrinths and ancient gods and alchemical workshops that spew horrors of their own. The prologue chapter even seems to be from the perspective of the city itself, as if watching our heroes crawl around its streets from above.

For all the action, the writing felt a little slow – as if it wasn’t quite conveying the urgency with which things were happening. The actual events were quite fast-paced, I just think the language could have been more…I’m not sure. Intense, maybe? It didn’t suck me in as much as I would have expected. It didn’t quite come to life on the page. I’m absolutely going to read the next book, when it comes out; writing styles generally improve in the second book, in my experience reading trilogies.

From the cover of The Gutter Prayer:

ENTER A CITY OF SAINTS AND THIEVES . . . 

The city of Guerdon stands eternal. A refuge from the war that rages beyond its borders. But in the ancient tunnels deep beneath its streets, a malevolent power has begun to stir. 

The fate of the city rests in the hands of three thieves. They alone stand against the coming darkness. As conspiracies unfold and secrets are revealed, their friendship will be tested to the limit. If they fail, all will be lost, and the streets of Guerdon will run with blood.

 

 

Friday 56 – The Gutter Prayer

gutter prayer

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The rules are simple – turn to page 56 in your current read (or 56% in your e-reader) and post a few non-spoilery sentences.

This week’s quote is from The Gutter Prayer, a fantasy novel by Gareth Hanrahan. In some ways it’s urban fantasy, as it’s set in a city that is very much a character in the novel – but it’s definitely more high fantasy than today’s “urban fantasy” genre.

They descend into darkness. He leads her by a circuitous route, for there are no straight paths down here, just a choice of labyrinths. She stumbles on rough floors and loose bones. She tries keeping one hand pressed to the tunnel wall, so he brings her under one of the city’s sewage works, down paths where the walls ooze black, and after that she keeps her hands to herself, her only tether to the surface Rat’s infrequent commands. Alchemical waste slithers past her legs, half-alive piles of pus that sprout blind eyes and hairy whiskers. They pass through abandoned sections of the city, and through still-inhabited ones. A door leads them into the cellar of a tavern, and he whispers to her to stay quiet as they pass beneath a room full of dock workers breaking their fasts. She can move surprisingly quietly when she has to, but otherwise she’s loud as a sewer boar in the tunnels. He can tell when she bumps or brushes against a new obstacle by each fresh profanity.

Full review up soon!

Book Review: The Winter of the Witch

winter of the witchThe Winter of the Witch
by Katherine Arden
Fantasy
372 pages
Published January 2019

The Winter of the Witch is the conclusion to the Winternight trilogy that began with The Bear and The Nightingale (enjoyable, but a little overhyped) and continued in The Girl in the Tower (fantastic). And ooooohhh what a conclusion it is! Vasya truly comes into her own in this book, dealing with the Russian fae with a confidence and conviction she didn’t quite have before. The war between the twin brother spirits – the Bear and the Winter King – comes to a head, with Vasya in the middle. While that war is heating up, so is the war between the Tatars and the Russians, with its climax in a version of the real-world Battle of Kulikovo.

The whole of Vasya’s family history is finally revealed, which has surprises of its own. Previously unknown family members appear, and Vasya is no longer as alone in her powers as she thought she was.

It can be very hard to review books in a series – especially concluding books – without spoiling things, so I’ll just say this was an epic conclusion to the trilogy and was just as enchanting as the other books. I cried at more than one point in this book, because Vasya’s heartbreak is so poignant. Gorgeous book. Beautiful use of Russian mythology. This entire trilogy is just brilliant.

From the cover of The Winter of the Witch:

Reviewers called Katherine Arden’s novels The Bear and The Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower “lyrical,” “emotionally stirring,” and “utterly bewitching.” The Winternight Trilogy introduced an unforgettable heroine, Vasilisa Petrovna, a girl determined to forge her own path in a world that would rather lock her away. Her gifts and her courage have drawn the attention of Morozko, the winter-king, but it is too soon to know if this connection will prove a blessing or a curse.

Now Moscow has been struck by disaster. Its people are searching for answers – and for someone to blame. Vasya finds herself alone, beset on all sides. The Grand Prince is in a rage, choosing allies that will lead him on a path to war and ruin. A wicked demon returns, stronger than ever and determined to spread chaos. Caught at the center of the conflict is Vasya, who finds the fate of two worlds resting on her shoulders. Her destiny uncertain, Vasya will uncover surprising truths about herself and her history as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all.

Library Loot Wednesday

So this is kind of a sad post – I just picked up the last two books from my hold list at my old library. I still have several books out from my old library, that I’ve been told I can turn in at my new county library and they will make their way back to the proper system, but I don’t think I have any further need to go back to a physical branch. I have to get to know an entirely new set of librarians now!

So my last two books from this library are The Priory of the Orange Tree, which is a feminist political fantasy with dragon riders (and a BEAST of a book, at over 800 pages!) and The Suburban Micro-Farm: Modern Solutions for Busy People. I’ve always been interested in homesteading, and I’ve reviewed a few gardening books in the past. (And I have several more on my shelves!) Most of them are about home farming on a tenth of an acre, or a quarter acre – and here I’m suddenly sitting on just under HALF an acre! I’m held back by the chronic fatigue from my chronic illness, but I’m working on addressing that with my doctor and my diet. I’d like to start small with just a couple of pots this year, and maybe grow slowly. I also have a very large black walnut tree towering over much of the property, and there are a lot of plants that won’t grow near those. So I have to do some research.