Book Review: The Witch Who Came In From The Cold

witch who came in from the coldThe Witch Who Came In From The Cold (The Complete First Season)
by Lindsay Smith, Max Gladstone, Cassandra Rose Clarke, Ian Tregillis, and Michael Swanwick
Magical Realism / Historical Fiction
616 pages
Published 2016

The Witch Who Came In From The Cold was originally published as a serial novel, so it’s divided up into distinct episodes, written by different authors. It’s still very coherent as an entire novel, though. This is Season One; there’s a Season Two that I absolutely have to get my hands on. Because this was great.

So it’s Prague, 1970, height of the Cold War. There’s lots of KGB vs CIA secret squirrel stuff going on, but our main CIA spy discovers there’s a second struggle happening behind the scenes, between Ice and Fire, two sects of magic-wielding sorcerers. This makes things incredibly complicated, because Ice and Fire are philosophical groups; Ice likes the world the way it is, Fire wants to change it, even if that change comes at the cost of destroying the world. Because these differences are philosophical, they cross national loyalty lines. So a CIA agent and a KGB agent might find themselves on the same side of a magical problem, and risk their careers and lives to work with each other to solve it.

It’s a fascinating skewing of a the spy genre, and I really enjoyed it. Most of the problems center around Hosts – mortals who have (usually unknowingly) bonded with an elemental spirit, and so have incredible, earth-shattering powers. Fire wants to use these Hosts to change the world, even if it means bring about the Apocalypse. Ice wants to prevent this, and so struggles to keep Hosts out of the hands of Fire. And when a Host is also a key player in the struggle between Russia and the US, things get VERY complicated.

I really want to learn more about the Hosts and their powers; I’m hoping Season Two gets into that more. The magic is mostly charms and ley lines, with chants and Elemental spirits mixed in. I’m also hoping Season Two gets more into the conflict between Ice and Fire, and maybe explains how it started? I’d love to learn that.

All in all, it was a great book, and I need to track down the second.

From the cover of The Witch Who Came In From The Cold:

PRAGUE, 1970

Great powers eye each other across the Iron Curtain. Secret warriors wage secret wars – some with guns, some with words, and some with magic.

CIA officer Gabe Pritchard has a mission: to transport a critical defector back to the US. But Gabe also has a secret. On a job in Egypt he stumbled into what he thought was a Soviet cell meeting – but Soviet cells don’t have altars or sacrificial knives. Now Gabe has splitting headaches, like there’s something burrowing inside his skull, and finding help means joining a different, and much colder, war.

Tanya Morozova works for the other shop in town – at least, when her KGB bosses are watching. But the young intelligence officer has a second secrete life as an agent of the Ice, an ancient order of sorcerers fighting for control of elemental Hosts who have the power to change the world – or destroy it. As Tanya’s enemies catch a critical Host in their web, she’s running out of options. Gabe Pritchard may be her only chance – or the  bait of one last deadly trap.

Book Review: The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths & Magic

rules and regulationsThe Rules & Regulations for Mediating Myths & Magic
by F. T. Lukens
Urban Fantasy / Young Adult / Romance / LGBT
287 pages
Published 2017

I loved this book. The wit is dry, the action easy to follow, the confusion of the main character absolutely warranted (Mermaids? in Lake Michigan?!), and it’s just wonderful. And it stars a bisexual teenage BOY. Male bisexuality could use more visibility, so this made me really happy. I picked this book for the M/M for Pride; I was really excited to find the main character is bisexual! It was a great surprise.

Bridger (an unusual name, but it fits him) is a senior in high school with a crush on his next door neighbor. He plans to go to school far away – Florida – where he can just BE himself instead of having to come out. But for that he needs money; so he answers an ad for an assistant doing….well he’s not sure exactly what. When he finally demands answers, he learns the truth about the world of myth and magic, and things snowball from there.

He wrestles with keeping it secret from his friends – because really, who would believe he saw mermaids in Lake Michigan? At the same time, he’s trying to wrap his head around his attraction to Leo, star football player, who just might like him back, and how to tell his mom he’s bisexual.

I loved Bridger, and his best friend, Astrid, who will kick the butt of anyone who looks wrong at Bridger, and Leo was an absolute dreamboat. I also want to know more about Pavel and his companions! I really really hope the author writes more books in this world, because I want to read them!

From the cover of The Rules & Regulations for Mediating Myths & Magic:

Desperate to pay for college, Bridger Whitt is willing to overlook the peculiarities of his new job – entering via the roof, the weird stacks of old books and even older scrolls, the seemingly incorporeal voices he hears from time to time – but it’s pretty hard to ignore being pulled under Lake Michigan by . . . mermaids? Worse yet, this happens in front of his new crush, Leo, the dreamy football star who just moved to town.

Fantastic.

When he discovers his eccentric employer Pavel Chudinov is an intermediary between the human world and its myths, Bridger is plunged into a world of pixies, werewolves, and Sasquatch. The realm of myths and magic is growing increasingly unstable, and it is up to Bridger to ascertain the cause of the chaos, eliminate the problem, and help his boss keep the real world from finding the world of myths.

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.

Book Review: Jackaby

jackabyJackaby
by William Ritter
Urban Fantasy/Detective story
299 pages
Published 2014

I don’t remember why this book was recommended to me, but it’s been languishing in my library stack for at least a couple of months now. I finally got around to reading it – and it’s delightful! There are three more books and a novella in this series, and the author has apparently started another fantasy series.

Jackaby is told from the viewpoint of Abigail Rook, an English miss who ran away from home in search of adventure. The book opens on her arrival in America, by way of the Ukraine and Germany. The only work she can find in this new town is as an assistant to Jackaby, a distinctly odd character who claims to see things no one else can. Abigail, however, begins to believe him, and accompanies him to a murder scene, where she spots mundane details that he had overlooked. With Jackaby spotting supernatural things that no one else can, and Abigail taking note of more mundane details that Jackaby misses, the two make a formidable team.

Jackaby, of course, has that infuriating habit of not telling Abigail all the things he knows, which leads to her not mentioning useful details because she didn’t know they were useful. I’m hopeful, now that she’s earned his trust, that in future books they will communicate better and work together more seamlessly.

The worldbuilding here seems to take “America as a melting pot” into the supernatural world as well, with creatures from various cultures migrating with their humans to America. Jackaby has a rather improbable knowledge of this huge variety of creatures, as well as a library to look up more obscure facts that aren’t already in his labyrinth of a mind.

I liked that Abigail wasn’t portrayed as stupid; she’s a bit ignorant of the supernatural world, but she didn’t know it existed until Jackaby, and she’s learning quickly. She also can’t see it like he can, so she of course misses some things that he thinks are obvious. He could be a little better about remembering that not everyone can see the supernatural, though.

The cover mentions that it’s Dr. Who meets Sherlock, and that’s a very apt description. Jackaby is VERY Dr. Who like, with the bustling energy and quick mind that comes off as arrogant but is more…oblivious, really. Abigail fills the companion role, along with a certain policeman that I’m hoping shows up in the following books as well. I will have to track those down and find out!

From the cover of Jackaby:

Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, in 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary – including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police – with the exception of the handsome detective Charlie Cane – are convinced their culprit is an ordinary villain. Jackaby is certain the foul deeds are the work of an inhuman creature, the likes of which the authorities are adamant to deny.

Doctor Who meets Sherlock in a debut novel, the first in a series, brimming with cheeky humor and a dose of the macabre.

Book Review: Silence Fallen

silence_fallen_layout.inddSilence Fallen
by Patricia Briggs
Urban Fantasy
371 pages
Published 2017

Silence Fallen is #10 in the Mercy Briggs series, and honestly, they’ve started to get a bit boring. Mercy gets into trouble. Mercy gets into SPECIAL trouble that werewolves would have a hard time with, but she’s special because she’s a coyote shifter, and her abilities give her an edge over the pure strength of werewolves! Mercy antagonizes enemies, escapes, finds her way home. Gets revenge. That’s basically the plot of almost every one of these books. I generally like them, but this one in particular fell short. Maybe it’s because I haven’t read them in a while, but it just lacked the urgency of some of her other adventures.

One thing that really bothered me was the big bad vampire in the beginning – who was creepy as ALL get out – turned out to not be that bad, I guess? They let themselves get used by him to fulfill a plot and weren’t mad about it? I would have expected Mercy’s pack to take the dude down, no matter the consequences, but that wasn’t what they decided to do.

And then, very frustratingly, they revealed something in the last ten pages or so that made me go re-read EVERY SCENE with a certain character and yep, there was no foreshadowing of that AT ALL. And there should have been. That’s something the reader should be able to guess, because the viewpoint character knows about it. And it’s absolutely not hinted at. So that’s frustrating, and changes the meaning of several scenes.

So I’m very meh on this one. I don’t know if I’ll continue this series. Sometimes series just overdo their lifespan. This should have been wrapped up and moved on to other characters some time ago. The second series in this world, Alpha and Omega, is still pretty good. But maybe it’s time to set Mercy aside. Do a series focused on the fae, or the vampires or something.

From the cover of Silence Fallen:

In the #1 New York Times bestselling Mercy Thompson novels, the coyote shapeshifter has found her voice in the werewolf pack. But when Mercy’s bond with the pack – and her mate – is broken, she’ll learn what it truly means to be alone.

Attacked and abducted in her home territory, Mercy finds herself in the clutches of the most powerful vampire in the world, taken as a weapon to use against Alpha werewolf Adam and the ruler of the Tri-Cities vampires. In coyote form, Mercy escapes – only to find herself without money, without clothing, and alone in a foreign country.

Unable to contact Adam through their mate bond, Mercy has allies to find and enemies to fight, and she needs to figure out which is which. Ancient powers stir, and Mercy must be her agile best to avoid causing a war between vampires and werewolves, and between werewolves and werewolves. And in the heart of the city of Prague, old ghosts rise…

Book Review: Smoke Eaters

smoke eatersSmoke Eaters
by Sean Grigsby
Urban Fantasy? Dystopia?
334 pages
Published March 2018

Oh this was AWESOME. With the exception of the main character’s name (Cole Brannigan) making me think of Zapp Brannigan from Futurama ALL THE TIME, this was a great read. The book is actually set in the near future of Earth – sometime after “E-Day” which they never actually said what the “E” stood for, but maybe Emergence Day? Because that was the day the dragons burrowed up from the earth and started destroying everything. (They referred to a song popular in the 80s as “ancient music”!) There’s some new technology – androids are getting popular, robot dogs are common, and the Smoke Eaters have laser swords and laser cannons for taking down dragons. But firefighting is still mostly the same.

Not-Zapp Brannigan is about to retire when his (regular) fire fighting team unexpectedly encounters a dragon. Normally, normal fire fighters don’t go in until the Smoke Eaters have taken out the dragon, but they didn’t realize there was a dragon here until far too late. During the fight, Brannigan loses his oxygen mask and discovers he can breathe in the thick smoke and be fine. He’s a literal Smoke Eater. When the actual Smoke Eaters arrive and discover him, he’s shanghaied into joining up.

The book covers Brannigan’s Smoke Eater training, what little of it he gets, and the trouble he gets into being on the Mayor’s bad side. We get to see several different types of dragons, and also see how the experience of many years of fighting normal fires helps with dragon-fighting strategy. There’s some theories on the dragons – where they came from, how they reproduce, how best to fight them.

Most of the book takes place in Ohio, but they take a jaunt to Canada and – well Canada’s gone VERY WEIRD.

This book was great, and a fun ride start to finish. I hope he writes more in this world, though the book is a perfectly fine standalone.

From the cover of Smoke Eaters:

When dragons rise from the earth, firefighters are humanity’s last line of defense, in this wild near-future fantasy.

Firefighter Cole Brannigan is on the verge of retirement after 30 years on the job, and a decade fighting dragons. But during his final fire call, he discovers he’s immune to dragon smoke. It’s such a rare power that he’s immediately conscripted into the elite dragon-fighting force known as the Smoke Eaters. 

Retirement cancelled, Brannigan is re-assigned as a lowly rookie, chafing under his superiors. So when he discovers a plot to take over the city’s government, he takes matters into his own hands. With hundreds of innocent civilians in the crosshairs, it’s up to Brannigan and his fellow Smoke Eaters to repel the dragon menace.