Book Review: Greywalker and Poltergeist

greywalkerGreywalker/Poltergeist
by Kat Richardson
Urban Fantasy
352 pages/349 pages
Published 2006/2007

I didn’t want to call this a series review, because there’s currently nine books in the series, and I’ve only read two of them. So this is a review of the first two books in the Greywalker series, because I don’t plan on reading more. I know that sounds ominous! Bear with me.

So Greywalker begins with our heroine, Harper, nearly being killed by a dude she’s been investigating. Well. Not nearly. She does die, but the EMTs bring her back. This experience gives her the ability to see into the Grey – a kind of fuzzy otherworld full of ghosts and other, scarier beings.

Now, this is a cool concept. I’m down with this. My problem, I think, is that Harper just seems to take this in stride. She finds a couple of people who know about the Grey, and teach her how to use it. But I feel like she never really emotionally dealt with this giant change. It felt like she basically went “Huh. Okay. That’s a thing. I need to learn how to use this.” She just went back to being a PI with this new ability. Fifty pages in, she’s back to investigating cases. It would be one thing if these were flashbacks – if the assault had happened prior to the book opening, and she’d done the emotional work. But to have the book open with that, and expect us to believe she’s just – okay with this? That a human could wrap their brain around this news so quickly? I don’t know. That requires a LOT of suspension of disbelief.

poltergeistIf I ignore the start, and the fact that she’s brand new to being a Greywalker and should be dealing with that, the rest of the book is a pretty standard urban fantasy mystery. I liked the world-building and the different takes on supernaturals. Vampires are, rightly, TERRIFYING. Despite being the protagonist, Harper is not magically immune to vampire wiles, which is a nice change. Personally, though, Book One is just spoiled for me because there should be a lot more emotional fallout. The character just falls flat and seems unrealistic.

The second book is better; possibly simply because this isn’t new for her by now, so I’m not expecting emotional work from her. The investigation seems more focused, and less scattered all over the place. It’s still pretty standard urban fantasy, though.

Overall, the concept is interesting, but the execution is lacking. It’s possible the series gets better in later books, but I’ve read two and just don’t have the desire to spend more time with Harper. She’s flat, lacks emotional depth, and is just uninteresting. I’m moving on to other books.

From the cover of Greywalker:

Harper Blaine was your average small-time PI until a two-bit perp’s savage assault left her dead – for two minutes, to be precise.

When Harper comes to in the hospital, she begins to feel a bit…strange. She sees things that can only be described as weird – shapes emerging from a foggy grey mist, snarling teeth, creatures roaring.

But Harper’s not crazy. Her “death” has made her a Greywalker – able to move between our world and the mysterious crossover zone where things that go bump in the night exist. And her new gift (or curse) is about to drag her into that world of vampires and ghosts, magic and witches, necromancers and sinister artifacts . . . 

Whether she likes it or not.

 

From the cover of Poltergeist:

In the days leading up to Halloween, Harper’s been hired by a university research group that’s attempting to create an artificial poltergeist. The head researcher suspects someone is faking the phenomena, but Harper’s investigation reveals something else entirely: They’ve succeeded.

When one of the group’s members is found dead in a brutal and inexplicable fashion, Harper must determine whether the killer is the ghost itself . . . or someone all too human.

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Book Review: The Poet X

the poet xThe Poet X
by Elizabeth Acevedo
Young Adult/Poetry
357 pages
Published 2018

This is another much-hyped book – and oh man, did it stand up to the hype. Told entirely through poetry, this novel was extraordinarily powerful, and had me sobbing near the end. Xiomara is an amazing character, and her poetry shows us her emotions more than prose ever could.

I’ve always loved poetry for that reason; especially poetry that plays with formatting – spacing and line breaks and size of stanzas. It’s so much more evocative than simple paragraphs of prose. (My favorite poet is probably e.e. cummings, who is rather infamous for unusual formatting.)

Acavedo does similar things, making Xiomara’s poetry explode across the page when necessary, and ordering it into simpler stanzas in calmer moments. It’s not rhyming, even poetry; this is written slam poetry. And I love it.

Xiomara is Dominican, living in Harlem, with a very strict, religious mother. Her twin brother is gay but not out to their parents; Xiomara is fine with this but knows their mother won’t be. Her poems cover her need to protect her brother and herself, both from their parents and from the outside world. She writes about street harassment and questioning God and falling in love with a boy, which is also against her mother’s rules. Her poems are at turns heartbreaking and joyous, but always beautiful.

This is an amazing book, and is the second book on my Best of the Year list. I am blown away.

From the cover of The Poet X:

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours her frustration onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers – especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

When she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she knows that she could never get around Mami’s rules to attend, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems. 

Because in spite of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

Book Review: Warrior Women

warrior womenWarrior Women
Edited by Paula Guran
Anthology/Science Fiction/Fantasy/Military Fiction
375 pages
Published 2015

This is an older anthology, but I recognized a lot of the authors in it, and I was excited to see a sci-fi anthology centered on war but starring women. The book is divided into five sections; Swords (& Spears & Arrows & Axes) and Sorcery focuses on the more standard fantasy warriors – knights, and mages, and the like in fantasy worlds. The next section, Just Yesterday & Perhaps Just Beyond Tomorrow, is closer to contemporary fiction, with a story set during WWII, and a drone pilot, and then an alien invasion of Earth. Somewhere Between Myth & Possibility is like a combination of sci-fi and fantasy; there are space ships and alternate dimensions and witches. The fourth section is Space Aria, and it is what it sounds like – space opera. Pretty straight sci-fi. It’s the fifth section that has the most thought-provoking pieces. Will No War End All War? centers stories about the cost of war. And it’s a little depressing, to be honest. It’s a heavy topic, so that’s unsurprising, but it left me in a low emotional place when I shut the book.

Warrior Women is a really interesting book, with twenty-four different stories examining different aspects of war. Some stories are told by soldiers, some by scientists, some by commanders, some by the sisters and daughters of soldiers. The book does a really good job of examining the subject from all angles. I am eager to see what my husband, as a former Marine, thinks of the book. I can’t say that I enjoyed the book, exactly, but it gave me a LOT to think about. And books that do that are just as important as escapist fantasy.

From the cover of Warrior Women:

From fantastic legends and science fictional futures come compelling tales of powerful women – or those who discover strength they did not know they possessed – who fight because they must, for what they believe in, for those they love, to simply survive, or who glory in battle itself. Fierce or fearful, they are courageous and honorable – occasionally unscrupulous and tainted – but all warriors worthy of the name!

Book Review: The Bird King

the bird kingThe Bird King
by G. Willow Wilson
Historical Fantasy
402 pages
Published March 2019

I have not yet read G. Willow Wilson’s first novel, Alif the Unseen, but I really want to now, because this one was beautiful. I really enjoyed this story, watching Fatima mature through her travels and change from the sheltered Sultan’s concubine/possession to become – well – what she becomes.

The Bird King is the story of Fatima, concubine, and Hassan, mapmaker, on the run from the Inquisition. They were both members of the house of the last Sultan in Iberia. When the Spanish (and the Inquisition) came to negotiate his surrender, one of their conditions was they wanted Hassan, because of the magic he used in his maps. Hassan has been Fatima’s only real friend; he’s the only man that wanted nothing from her, because he’s gay and unmoved by her beauty. His sexuality has been largely ignored by the court; his maps were too important to the war effort, so it was tolerated and just not spoken of. When Fatima discovers the Sultan intends to turn Hassan over, she runs away with him. She has some unexpected help in her journey, which, along with Hassan’s mapmaking, makes this a kind of magical realist historical fantasy novel. It’s not really alternate history, because nobody’s actions change how history plays out on a large scale.

I really enjoyed Wilson’s writing style, and while I’d already been interested in the description of Alif the Unseen, given how much I like her writing here, I really need to read that as well. I’m pretty sure it’s on my Kindle!

From the cover of The Bird King:

G. Willow Wilson delivers her long-awaited second novel set in 1491 during the reign of the last sultan in the Iberian peninsula.

The Bird King tells the story of Fatima, a concubine in the royal court of the sultan of Granada, and her dearest friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker. Hassan has a secret – he can make maps of places he’s never seen and bend the shape of reality with his pen and paper. His gift has proven useful to the sultan’s armies in wartime, as well as entertained a bored Fatima, who has never step foot outside the palace walls. When a party representing the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrives to negotiate the terms of the sultan’s surrender, Fatima is tasked with welcoming their women. She befriends one of the women, little realizing that she represents the Inquisition and will see Hassan’s gift as sorcery, and therefore a threat to Christian rule.

In order to escape the Inquisition, Fatima and Hassan embark on an epic voyage across Spain in search of refuge on a mysterious, possible mythic island. With everything on the line, The Bird King asks us to consider what love is, and the price of freedom at a time when the West and the Muslim world were not yet separate. A triumphant tour de force with shadings of Pullman, Gaiman, L’Engle, and C. S. Lewis, G. Willow Wilson’s The Bird King is a jubilant story of love versus power, religion versus faith, and freedom versus safety.

Book Review: Crown of Feathers

crown of feathersCrown of Feathers
by Nicki Pau Preto
Young Adult/Fantasy
486 pages
Published February 2019

Okay first, just gaze at that cover for a little while. Just – wow. We get dragon riders all the time, but phoenix riders? That is new. AND AWESOME. I have been ridiculously excited about this book, and then I received it just as we were really gearing up to move. I have FINALLY gotten around to it, and man. I need the second one now. And it’s not due out until 2020!

The book tells the story of Veronyka, a war orphan who wants to be a phoenix rider, like her parents and grandmother. It is mostly told from her viewpoint, but we also get a few chapters from the point of view of Sev, an animage hiding in the Empire’s army, Tristan, another phoenix rider, and one or two from Veronyka’s sister, Val.

Animages are, as the name implies, mages whose magical power involves talking to animals and making them do their bidding. All phoenix riders are animages; not all animages are phoenix riders. But the empire has outlawed animages anyway, unless they pay a heavy tax. If you’re found to have evaded the tax, you get enslaved as a bondservant until you pay off your unpaid taxes. Sev hid his magic and enlisted in the army to keep from being sold as a bondservant.

In between chapters of current events, we have letters and snippets from history books detailing the story of Avalkyra Ashfire, who was the last Rider Queen before the empire turned against the Riders.

The villain in this story is villainous indeed, but at the same time, I don’t -want- them to be villainous. I -want- them to be good, and noble, and I can see why they’ve done what they’ve done and – I HAVE FEELINGS. I don’t LIKE the villain. They’re quite unlikable. I kinda feel like Obi Wan here. YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE. We all had so much FAITH in you. So it feels like a betrayal. And I just – I want to be wrong. I want the villain to do the right thing in the second book and no longer be a villain, but I don’t know how exactly that would happen. I’m holding out hope though.

This book is good. I’m not putting it in my best of 2019 because I’m so torn on the villain. But it’s very good. I am eager to see where the story goes from here.

From the cover of Crown of Feathers:

I HAD A SISTER ONCE . . . 

In a world ruled by fierce warrior queens, a grand empire was build upon the backs of Phoenix Riders – legendary warriors who soared through the sky on wings of fire – until a war between two sisters ripped it all apart.

I PROMISED HER THE THRONE WOULD NOT COME BETWEEN US.

Sixteen years later, Veronyka is a war orphan who dreams of becoming a Phoenix Rider like the heroes of old. After a shocking betrayal from her controlling sister, Veronyka strikes out alone to find the Riders – even if that means disguising herself as a boy to join their ranks.

BUT IT IS A FACT OF LIFE THAT ONE MUST KILL OR BE KILLED. RULE OR BE RULED.

Just as Veronyka finally feels like she belongs, her sister turns up and reveals a tangled web of lies between them that will change everything. And meanwhile, the new empire has learned of the Riders’ return and intends to destroy them once and for all.

SOMETIMES THE TITLE OF QUEEN IS GIVE. SOMETIMES IT MUST BE TAKEN.

Crown of Feathers is an epic fantasy about love’s incredible power to save – or to destroy. Interspersed throughout is the story of Avalkyra Ashfire, the last Rider queen, who would rather see her empire burn than have it fall into her sister’s hands. 

Book Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree

priory of the orange treeThe Priory of the Orange Tree
by Samantha Shannon
Epic Fantasy
830 pages
Published February 2019

Holy COW, you guys. I keep saying “I haven’t read much epic fantasy lately” and “I don’t have time to read such long books/series” but I made an exception for Priory, and I’m SO glad I did. Just WOW.

So the basic premise of this world is that The Nameless One (some gigantic evil dragon) was locked away a thousand years ago, and all his minions with him. The exact details of how and who did it have been mostly lost to history. It’s said that as long as the House of Berethnet rules Inys, he’ll never rise again, and Berethnet queens always have one child, a daughter. The current queen, however, is unwed, and minions of The Nameless One have begun rising, and in fact have conquered a few neighboring nations. We have three main factions of countries; The East, who have dragon riders, but make a distinction between their dragons, who are aquatic and identify with the stars, and the evil minions of The Nameless One, who are full of fire. Then we have Virtudom, which is headed by Inys, and is a coalition of countries who have made a religion of the Knightly Virtues. This is the West, and they make no distinction between the draconic servants of The Nameless One and the water dragons of the East. This has forced a split between the West and the East, because Virtudom won’t have anything to do with countries that have anything to do with dragons, because most of what they see is the third faction – the Draconic countries. These are countries conquered by minions of the Nameless One, and they are full of chaos, fire, evil, and plague.

This is the world the book opens on. Most of our main characters – Queen Sabran, her handmaiden Ead, the dragonrider Tané – are women, but we also have Doctor Niclays Roos, an alchemist, and Lord Arteloth Beck, a friend of the Queen. In this world, women are just as capable as men, and are treated as such. There are female knights, and same-sex relationships are just as ordinary as opposite-sex ones. There is a bit too much moral emphasis placed on monogamy/sex within the bounds of marriage, but I guess that’s “Knightly Virtue” for you. Skin color is only mentioned a couple of times, but I seem to remember Lord Arteloth being described as very dark-skinned, and Ead as golden-brown. Rather nice to see a fantasy NOT all caught up in racial and gender differences. Not to say there isn’t a fair amount of bigotry, but in this book it’s based pretty much solely on nationality and religion. And when the biggest sticking point is “do you like evil dragons or not” that kind of makes sense!

I think the only thing I didn’t like about this book was its size. It’s unwieldy to read, at over 800 pages! I’m not sure why they didn’t break it into a duology. Regardless, if you have the choice, I’d read it on Kindle. It would be far easier to handle. I’m not complaining about the amount of text, mind you. Just the sheer physical size. I can’t imagine the story being told in less time. There’s So. Much. Here.

This book goes from Queen Sabran’s court to the dragonrider academy in the East, to the draconic kingdom of Yscalin, to the Abyss where the Nameless One sleeps. We see glittering courts, hidden islands, sweltering tunnels through volcanic mountains, and deep valleys with secret magic trees. We battle wyrms and cockatrices, swim through endless seas with dragonriders, sail through storms with pirate crews, and navigate the trickiest of diplomatic matters with courtiers. The Priory of the Orange Tree paints an elaborate, incredibly complex world and I am absolutely here for it.

Okay, so one tiny quibble – while I liked the romance, I feel like it started kind of oddly. I didn’t see any reason for the initial spark. From there, it progressed perfectly, but I just didn’t get the beginning.

This book has multiple queer couples! There’s at least one same-sex couple mentioned as attending a party; Doctor Roos spends a lot of time mourning his dead lover, and there’s the lesbian romance between a couple of main characters. And one character has at least strong affection for a man before falling in love with a woman; I think she was in love with both. No trans or ace rep, but plenty of gay, lesbian, and bi!

This is hands-down the best book I’ve read so far this year. It took me three days – it’s a big book – but it is absolutely fantastic.

From the cover of The Priory of the Orange Tree:

A WORLD DIVIDED.
A QUEENDOM WITHOUT AN HEIR.
AN ANCIENT ENEMY AWAKENS.

The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction – but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.

Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.