Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “paranormal fantasy”

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #104:Steel’s Edge by Ilona Andrews – Double Cannonball completed! Whoo!

This is the final book in the Edge series, and while the previous three books more or less can be read independently of each other, this one ties up enough loose ends and contains enough characters from earlier in the series that unfamiliar readers would be recommended both to avoid this review if they don’t want spoilers for earlier books, and to start the beginning with On the Edge. Go on. This review will still be waiting until you return, and the books are varying degrees of awesome.

Richard Mar is the head of the once large and unruly Edge clan, which after a huge battle with a very unsavoury character known as Spider and his band of genetically mutated minions in Bayou Moon has had to relocate to the much more magical realm of the Weird, severely depleted after many deaths. Spider was an agent of the intelligence agency known as the Hand. Richard’s brother Kaldar swore to get revenge, and joined the rival intelligence agency, the Mirror. Richard chose a different path, and chose to go after the bands of slavers who once kidnapped his young cousin Sophie. Not content to hunt down and kill random bands of slavers, Richard wants to follow the hierarchy all the way to the top, ending the unscrupulous practise once and for all.

If he lives long enough, that is. At the start of the book, Richard is lured into a trap and almost mortally wounded by a small group of slavers. He’s saved from near certain death by Charlotte de Ney, an unusually powerful healer from the Weird kingdom of Adrianglia. She sought refuge in the Edge after nearly using her healing powers to kill her husband, who married her for her exalted social position and sought an annulment the minute he discovered that she was barren.

While Charlotte is the most powerful healer in her generation, she cannot use her powers to heal herself. She was taken from her biological family as a young child once her powers were discovered, and trained at the best medical institutions Adrianglia had to offer. Adopted by one of the foremost nobles in the land, Charlotte herself was dubbed a baroness after her years of service. Yet once a healer starts using their powers to harm rather than to heal, they risk setting in motion a devastating chain of events. The more powerful the healer, the more powerful the disaster if they lose control and start inflicting illnesses rather than healing. So Charlotte runs to the Edge, where magical abilities are dampened. Eleonore, the grandmother of Rose, George and Jack from On the Edge lets her rent Rose’s old house, and helps introduce her to the locals, so she can help out, and make money.

Charlotte heals Richard, but he’s been pursued by the slavers from the Weird, and they are determined to get their hands on him, no matter what the cost. Enraged by their actions, Charlotte returns to the Weird, where she is at full power, determined to destroy the slavers, every last one. Richard realises that while Charlotte is furious, harming others and bringing death doesn’t come naturally to her. He tries to dissuade her and change her mind, but when she won’t be reasoned with, figures that she’s safer with him than pursuing the slavers on her own.

On the surface, Richard and Charlotte may seem like opposites. While Richard may have been brought up with immaculate manners from his Weird grandfather and is deeply noble in spirit, he’s still a dirt poor Edger rat with no prospect other than to meet death on his quest to destroy the slavers. Charlotte may have been born humble, but was raised in luxury and trained to be immaculately poised in any situation by one of the most powerful noblewomen in Adrianglia. She’s a baroness in her own right after her decade of healing service to the Adrianglian crown, and the adopted daughter of a very influential lady. Despite this, both Richard and Charlotte are very similar, and that’s part of the reason why the romance side of this book felt less satisfying in some of the previous Edge books.

Richard’s brother Kaldar is a rogue, charmer and consummate con man. He meets his match, Audrey, the daughter of a thief and con artist, in Fate’s Edge. The romance in that book is hindered by Audrey’s lack of trust in Kaldar, and unwillingness to settle down with a man she fears will be just like her father. They banter and constantly try to best each other, but are basically two sides of the same coin, and it’s obvious that they’re perfect for each other.

Richard and Charlotte’s romance have the same problem. Both characters are devastatingly noble and self sacrificing, to the point of idiocy on occasion. Richard is hunting the slavers so his cousin Sophie won’t be forced to do it herself. He’s almost sure he’s going to die before he discovers the leaders of the organisation, and he doesn’t mind laying down his life for the cause. Charlotte is the same. She hates using her abilities to kill, but after experiencing first hand the terror the slavers can bring, she won’t stop until she’s made sure no man, woman or child is ever hurt by them again. If she has to unleash a plague to do so, so be it.

Also, while both Richard and Charlotte are convinced that the other is horrified and repelled by the other’s capacity for bringing death, they fall in love over the course of about three days. Extremely eventful days, mind, but still less than a week. Considering their vastly different backgrounds and social status, a slightly slower development and maybe a bit more conflict would have been nice.

As always, the supporting cast of the book is amazing. Long time readers of the series will see the return of the aforementioned Eleonore, Rose and Declan, Declan’s formidable mother (briefly introduced at the end of On the Edge), Jack and George, Sophie (or Lark, as she is known as in Bayou Moon), and of course Kaldar. Sophie is growing into a terribly driven young swordswoman, and Richard is probably right to be worried about her state of mind. Jack and George have aged and developed since their adventures in Fate’s Edge and can still make me laugh, even though their subplot in this book is quite a lot darker than in the previous book.

Dark is definitely the operative word for this story. Ilona Andrews said in an interview once that if the series was a meal, On the Edge would be the starter, Bayou Moon the heavy main course, Fate’s Edge the frothy and sweet dessert and Steel’s Edge the bitter and black coffee at the end of the meal. The subject matter of this book is not a light one. There is death, so much death, and not just for deserving bad guys. I was in tears by the end of chapter three, and several times throughout the book (although some of the tears were happy ones).

A lot of story strands started in earlier books are finished off with this one, and it’s a very fitting end to the story. To say that my expectations for this book were high is a massive understatement. I started pining for this book after finishing Fate’s Edge a year ago, and every snippet and mention of it just made me want it more. I needed the book to be good, and it is. As Spider and the Hand are the main villains in Bayou Moon and secondary villains in Fate’s Edge, I would have liked it if that subplot wasn’t finished off almost as an afterthought towards the end of this. Just as the romance between Richard and Charlotte was resolved in no time at all, the final act of the book also felt a bit rushed. None of them are enough to seriously ruin my enjoyment of the book, though, and to be satisfied with the end for the characters.

Ilona and Gordon Andrews have said that they may return to Jack, George and Sophie in a later series, if they have enough material to write their story properly. I certainly hope they do, because these three characters are probably my favourite in the entire series, the world building in these books is excellent, and their writing is amazing. Congratulations on finishing on a high note.

4.5 stars

Cross posted on my blog.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #100: My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland

So it’s no secret that pretty much everything I read consists of genre fiction, mostly paranormal fantasy, or romance (sometimes either of those genres aimed at young adults) or a mix of all of the above. So Felicia Day’s Vaginal Fantasy Hangout was pretty much made for someone like me. Now, for most of the time the group has been running, I’ve read at least one, if not both of the books featured as Reads of the Month. However, this month (November), they feature zombie books, with at least a bit of a romantic element to them.

I’m not going to lie, I’ve read books with vampires, werewolves, all sorts of other kinds of shapeshifters (including dinosaurs, so thanks, VFH ladies!), ghosts, demons, angels, fairies, dark elves, you name it – I’ve probably read some variation of fantasy/romance where this was a feature. Until now, I’d drawn the line at zombies, however. My husband reads, and watches The Walking Dead, and I’ve caught the occasional episode. I watched Shaun of the Dead. I don’t like horror, though, in any genre, so zombies tend to be something I avoid. I certainly don’t see it as a successful starting point for anything with romantic elements. Clearly popular culture disagrees with me, though, as Warm Bodies was a huge publishing success and now looks like it’s going to be a really rather entertaining film.

One of the reasons I join online book clubs, and browse review sites, and book blogs and participate in the Cannonball Read is to discover new things. So while I was initially reluctant, I decided to give zombie fantasy a try. My Life as a White Trash Zombie is the story of Angel Crawford, who wakes up in the hospital after what appears to be a drug overdose. She was apparently found stark naked on the side of the highway, on the same night as there was an accident not too far away, and the driver of the car was found decapitated. With the head missing from the scene of the crime. Angel has no memory at all of how any of this came to pass, but is relieved that the police only question her, as a drug overdose is in violation of her parole.

She’s given a bag of clothes and a letter from one of the nurses, where she’s told to show up at the parish morgue for a new job, and she has to hold down the job for at least a month, or the police will be told about her OD, and she’ll end up in jail. She’s also given 6 bottles of some mysterious liquid, and told to drink one every other day. The letter also states that if she were to end up in prison, she’d be dead before long, so Angel is too scared to refuse the job offer.

At the morgue, she discovers that she’s not only expected to drive a van and pick up corpses, she’s also meant to help the morgue technicians with autopsies. Previously, Angel’s not been able to see anything even vaguely gory without throwing up, but she now seems to be able to handle all sorts of disgusting smells and sights without so much as a dry heave. Strangest of all, the sight and smell of dead brains seem to drive her wild. Before long, Angel realises that she actually kind of likes her job, and wants to prove that she can stick with something, no matter what her deadbeat on again off again drug addict boyfriend or drunken father says. She just needs to figure out why she has an unnatural craving for brains, why dead bodies keep showing up decapitated, and who got her the job at the morgue in the first place?

For the first couple of chapters, I wasn’t sure about Angel as a protagonist, and her no ambition deadbeat attitude. By the time she starts her job at the morgue, I was starting to warm up to her, and I’m very glad that I kept going with the book, as it turned out to be both a fairly exciting page turner, and lots of fun. Once Angel gets developed more as a character, and starts building her self esteem and accomplishing things, I really enjoyed her and her rather snarky wit. I wish she’d wised up about her abusive, drunken asshole of a dad, and extreme loser boyfriend sooner, but we can’t have everything, now can we?

The way zombies are portrayed in the book is also really well done. Angel can pretty much survive any injury or damage as long as she ingests enough brains, and while she no longer feels the effects of pills or pot, she can eat human food as well, so long as she consumes brains every other day or so. The more energy she expends, the more often she has to have a brainy snack. Her job at the morgue is obviously perfect, and once she faces up to the fact that she’s now the walking undead, she tries to research her “condition” as best she can, and gets on with things without complaining.

There’s some pretty cool supporting characters as well (not the drunken dad or pothead boyfriend), and a subplot involving Angel’s continued crush on one of the deputies who arrested her a while back. The book is not a romance, as such, but it looks like the romance angle might be stronger in the sequel (which I’m now pretty excited to read). So I still haven’t had to face an actual main story romance where one or both of the characters is a zombie, and guess that’ll have to be next on my list.

Cross posted on my blog.

Malin’s #CBR4 Reviews # 94-99: I’m nearly done with a double Cannonball, you guys!

So in the middle of October, I once again took part in the 24-hour Read-a-thon, and I’ve obviously been reading (and re-reading) books since then, but I’ve been falling behind on my blogging. So here’s a big catch-up post, and hopefully, within the week, I will have read and blogged a double Cannonball. I only set out to do a single one this year, and as a result, it seems that completing twice the amount became less of a chore.

94. A Wrinkle in Time by Madelaine L’Engle. I suspect I would have loved this more when I was younger. 4 stars.

95. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. The first book I’ve read of hers. It won’t be the last. 4 stars.

96. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. I know it’s been reviewed so well, so many times on here, and I have no idea why I didn’t pick it up before. 5 stars. By far the funniest book I read this year.

97. A Notorious Countess Confesses by Julie Anne Long. Yet another historical romance,  surprising no one, I’m sure. “The one with the hot vicar” as Mrs. Julien dubbed it. 4 stars.

98. Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor. Unquestionably one of the most anticipated books of the year for me, this turned out to be something completely different from what I’d expected. 4 stars.

99. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. So is it wrong that I was more charmed by the film? The 14-year-olds I teach, love it, though. 3.5 stars.


Malin’s #CBR Review #92: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Blue Sargent lives in a household of psychics. Her mother’s one, her aunt is one, and all her mother’s friends. Sometimes their predictions are vague and non-specific, sometimes they are very accurate. Blue has known for as long as she can remember that if she ever kisses her true love, he will die. Until this summer, that hasn’t been a problem. Blue knows boys are trouble, and the Raven Boys, the young men enrolled at the prestigious Aglionby Academy in town, are the most troublesome of all.

Every year, on St. Mark’s Eve, Blue and her mother go to an abandoned graveyard at the outskirts of Henrietta to watch for all the spirits who will die in the next year. Blue normally can’t see them, her power is that she enhances the psychic abilities of those around her, and it’s her job to write down all the names of the ones her mother speaks to. This year, Blue goes with her aunt, and for the first time, she sees one of the spirits on the Corpse Road. Unfortunately, that means one of two things. Either the boy is her true love, or Blue is the one who killed him. The spirit said his name was Gansey, and he was dressed as one of the Raven Boys.

Richard “Dick” Cambell Gansey III, known to all his friends and acquaintances as Gansey, is completely unaware of Blue’s vision, or even existence. He enrolled at Aglionby Academy in  Henrietta, Virginia because he is looking for the burial place of Glendower, a legendary Welsh king. With the help of his friends, Adam Parrish, Ronan Lynch and the mysterious Noah, he searches the town for evidence of ley lines and mystical artifacts.

Adam is a scholarship student at Aglionby, and only managing to keep his place there by holding down three different jobs. He’s Gansey’s best friend, but the difference in their backgrounds and financial situations create conflicts and complicated undercurrents in their relationship.

Ronan Lynch is one of three orphaned brothers, vicious as a wild animal and self-destructive to the extreme. Gansey and Adam do their best to keep him out of trouble, and from being expelled from the Academy. Noah lives with Ronan and Gansey, but seems strangely strangely quiet and distant from the others. He never eats anything when others are watching, and spends a lot of time on his own.

Having previously stayed far away from all Raven boys, Blue now needs to discover the truth about Gansey. Is he her true love? Did she cause his death? Is there any way she can prevent his spirit from ending up on the Ghost road? Can Blue and her family help Gansey and his friends in the search for Glendower?

Based on the blurb of the book, I was expecting something a bit different from what I actually got. First of all, for all the ominous talk about kissing and dooming boys, there is very little romance in the story. Blue is a very sensible girl, and fully aware that her family’s predictions are nothing to be messed with. When befriending the Raven boys, it’s not even Gansey she feels drawn to, at first, but Adam. Still, not wanting to tempt fate, Blue’s not about to be kissing any boy, rich or poor.

Gansey and Blue do not get along at first, mainly because of a massive misunderstanding, and because they come from vastly different worlds. Gansey has never known a day of want in his life, and has always had huge amounts of money that he can buy whatever he wants with. He doesn’t understand why Adam would rather work three jobs to go to the Academy and stay with his abusive father, rather than accept a loan from Gansey and stay with him and their other friends in the huge warehouse apartment off campus. He only wants what’s best for those he loves, and is painfully aware that occasionally he insults people just because of his carelessness with money. Gansey has several reasons for wanting to find the missing tomb, Adam needs to find it because of the supernatural favour the finder is supposed to be granted. He needs to get out of his dead end existence, but he can’t do it while relying on someone else – he has to know that he managed to get out while being beholden to no one.

Maggie Stiefvater has an amazing way with words, and I always have very high expectations to her books. I think that’s why I was a bit disappointed with her previous book, The Scorpio Races. I want to love her books, and it’s very difficult for me when I don’t. This book was different from what I was expecting, but drew me in and enveloped me in the sort of magical worlds that I’ve come to expect from the author.

It is very clearly the first book in a series. There are story lines that are resolved, but also new ones that clearly need to be addressed in later books. The character of Ronan, who I’ve not really written much about in this review, but who is also a very interesting and complex character (say what you want, but Stiefvater is brilliant at creating fascinating people to read about), will clearly play a more prominent part in the next book, if the last page of the book is anything to go by.

The back of the book may suggest that this is a supernatural love story, but it’s much more of a mystery, with a quest narrative thrown in. The friendships of the four Raven Boys, and the relationship of Blue to her family are central, and all really well depicted. The villain in the book could’ve been given better characterisation, and I never quite felt that the stakes were as high and dangerous as they were probably supposed to have been, but the book is very good indeed, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

Crossposted on my blog.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #83: Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuire

This is the fifth book in the October Daye series, and this review may contain spoilers for events in previous books. It’s also not the best place to start the series, go read the first book instead: Rosemary and Rue. My reviews of the other books in this series can be found by clicking the character name tag.

Sir October “Toby” Daye, changeling knight and private investigator, retriever and rescuer of lost children, has been grieving for year, due to the losses she incurred towards the end of One Salt Sea. While seemingly getting by, on the surface, fulfilling her responsibilities, training her squire, paying the bills, Toby is acting more and more recklessly, and her friends and loved ones are getting worried. When another of Duke Sylvester’s knights show up on her doorstep, begging for her help to find his changeling daughter, Toby wants to refuse, but understands that she’s the only one who can help him.

The very proper and correct Sir Etienne hadn’t even realised he had a teenage daughter until his ex-girlfriend called him up, furious because she believed he’d kidnapped her. Etienne can teleport, and his daughter has the same power. Normally changelings are closely monitored by Faerie. Chelsea has incredible powers and none of the control that other changelings are taught. She’s not only opening portals across huge distances in the mortal world, but opening realms that were believed sealed off and forgotten ages ago. If Chelsea keeps on opening the portals, it’ll cause rifts in the walls between the worlds, and can endanger not only Faerie, but the mortal world as well.

Tybalt, King of Cats, has been keeping his distance, but Chelsea’s out of control teleporting is endangering his realm and family as well, and he needs Toby’s help to sort things out. However, there’s dissention in the ranks at the Court of Cats, and while Tybalt may have nine lives, he’s going to have to be very careful not to lose all the remaining ones to rebels set on stealing his crown.

While it took me a while to warm up to Toby as a character, and to the October Dayeseries in general (I didn’t really get into it properly until book 3: An Artificial Night).She’s tenacious, stubborn and very determined, brave to the point of idiocy and far too liable to throw herself into life threatening situations at the drop of a hat. She’s less charming than some of the other paranormal fantasy heroines that I’m fond of, and therefore (at least to me) took longer to grow fond of. Now I absolutely love her, with all her flaws (even though I frequently want to reach into the book and slap her resoundingly). She’s come a long way in six books, has the lonely half human, half-very powerful fae. She’s learning, through trial and error, love and loss, and countless near death experiences, that she may not have to fight ever battle by herself. She has friends, and allies, and people who care deeply for her. In this book, she actually thinks before she acts, and willingly consults her little group of compatriots, and the book is all the greater for it.

The supporting cast are also great. Seeing the always supercilious Sir Etienne forced to humble himself  to Toby, who he clearly doesn’t always like that much and becoming a more well-rounded character as a result, was good. Quentin, Toby’s squire continues to be a delightful side-kick, and it’s obvious that while McGuire finished off several major plot strands and a big arc with the last book, she’s setting up a whole new set of them with intriguing hints about the rapidly maturing boy’s absent parents. Raj, Tybalt’s nephew and heir, is also central to the plot, and McGuire writes the different youths with distinctive voices and presences.

Tybalt, my absolute favourite character, really gets to shine in this book, which of course warms my heart. Having started out as almost an antagonist for Toby in the first book, Tybalt has gradually become an important friend of Toby’s, always there for her when she needs him the most, yet confusing her with his cryptic remarks and sudden disappearances. A third of the love triangle of the series for a while, Tybalt was disapproving of Toby’s childhood sweetheart Connor for a number of reasons, and now, having patiently waited in the wings, is ready to take centre stage. He’s clearly willing to risk everything for Toby, the question is what she really wants.

There’s no question that this is my absolute favourite of the ever-improving series so far, and I’m really sorry that it’ll be another year until I can read the next book. Fans of paranormal fantasy should definitely check the series out. It takes a couple of books to really hit its stride, but when it does, it grabs your attention and refuses to let go. You’ll be hooked, and you won’t regret it.

Being a mystery, and also a paranormal, this fits nicely into the R.I.P VII genres. This will be my first review for that challenge. Cross posted, as always.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #82: Archangel’s Storm by Nalini Singh

This book is the fifth in a series, and will most likely contain spoilers for previous books the Guild Hunter series. So avoid if you dislike that sort of thing. Also, this book refers back to a lot of characters and events in the previous four books, so it’s probably not the best one to start with. The first one in the series is Angels’ Blood.

Jason is one of the archangel Raphael’s Seven, the angels and vampires who work for him and that he trusts implicitly with his business and security. Jason is his spymaster, and can literally fade into the shadows and move unnoticed in the places he visits, should he wish to do so. Jason also has a type of psychic power where he can hear whispers on the wind. He’s quiet, deadly, and extremely aloof, unable to fully engage with the world around him, due to some seriously horrific experiences as a child. A lot of Nalini Singh’s characters have troubled pasts, Jason’s is worse than most.

At the wedding of another member of the Seven, hears a whisper on the wind alerting him that the archangel of India, Neha (who has the power over snakes and poisons), has lost her consort Eris, and it appears to be murder. Neha hates Raphael after her murderous daughter was caught breaking the laws of angelkind and executed – but she’d love to steal Jason away to her court, so when Raphael offers to send his spymaster to India to investigate the murder, Neha accepts. She wants Jason to swear a blood oath, ensuring he can’t reveal any secrets of her household without forswearing herself. Being bound to Raphael, Jason refuses at first, but a compromise is made. Jason is to swear to princess Mahiya, Neha’s niece, thus making it safe for him to explore Neha’s palaces and grounds to find the killer, without betraying any of her business to Raphael.

Mahiya seems like a timid and weak angel, but Jason soon discovers that she has a quiet strength that has helped her endure centuries of her aunt’s displeasure. The daughter of Neha’s consort Eris and her twin sister Nivriti, Mahiya is a constant reminder to Neha of the betrayal of her most loved ones, and she’s put the princess through all manner of torture, both physical and emotional. Mahiya has endured, silently, plotting quietly and planning to get away. She’s afraid that the blood bond with the deadly spymaster will jeopardise her plans, but discovers that she may instead have found an ally. As the two work together to discover the identity of the murderer, who is not content to stop at one victim, Mahiya and Jason are drawn towards each other. But Jason has had all capacity for tender emotion burned out of him by the horrors in his past – is there any possibility of a shared future for them? And will Neha ever let Mahiya leave her court?

While I much preferred this book to the previous one, Archangel’s Blade, I wish that Singh had focused entirely on Jason and Mahiya’s story, rather than interrupting the main plot every so often with subplots having to do with Raphael or Dimitri (hero of the previous novel) and his preparations for turning his wife into a vampire. It added absolutely nothing to the story, instead it kept distracting me from the flow of the main plot, and I don’t entirely understand why, if this was vital to the plot of the next book, the readers couldn’t be let in on it in flashback then. Singh does really good flashbacks. From the prologue of the book, continued in little glimpses throughout, revealing a little bit more every time, we are shown why Jason has become the man he isuntil he finally reveals it in the last third of the book. Both he and Mahiya have experienced terrible things, which makes it even more remarkable that Mahiya has retained hope and a stubborn insistence on forgiveness and softness, refusing to give in to hate and bitterness.

I liked the couple a lot, and their romance was slow to build. The murder mystery, however, I figured out a little bit too soon for my liking. I like when mysteries actually take a bit of figuring out, because if I can solve them so easily, why would it take the characters so much longer? If Jason’s as capable and brilliant as he’s said to be, it shouldn’t have taken him so long to come to the same conclusion I did.

While I really liked the first two books in the series, I’ve had complaints with the last three, and if it wasn’t for the excellent world building, and the fact that I really did enjoy this one quite a lot, I would be considering stopping. At this rate, I will give Singh one more chance to win her way back into my good graces (after all, I’m still reading Charlaine Harris), and hope that the next one is back to the form of the early ones.

Also posted on my blog and Goodreads.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #81: Riveted by Meljean Brook

Annika has grown up in a small secluded village in Iceland, populated entirely by women, who have kept it well-hidden through stories of witches and trolls in the area. She’s been travelling for four years, trying to find her sister, who took the blame for Annika’s nearly revealing the location of the town to the outside world, had a massive row with the elders, and left.

David Kentewess is a vulcanologist desperate to find the village Annika is from, as his mother’s dying words was that he bury an heirloom necklace by the sacred mountain close to where she was born. When he meets Annika, he recognises her accent, and tries desperately to share her secrets. While drawn to David, Annika can’t reveal the secrets of her home and the women there, whether threatened or cajoled. And before long, both Annika and David have much more to worry about than their growing attraction to each other and whatever promises they made to their families.

I will say this for Meljean Brook, after The Iron Duke and Heart of Steel, I thought I knew a little bit of what to expect. I was wrong. Well, I expected clever writing and interesting world building, and multi-faceted characters who I’d enjoy reading about, and I got all that. But story wise, this was completely different from the other two Iron Seas novels, and the start of the novel gave me absolutely no hints of where the story was going to end up. Suffice to say, Annika and David are absolutely nothing like the protagonists of the previous two novels Brook has written in her alternate history, pseudo-Victorian Steampunk world.

Annika has been raised purely by women, in a community where women either go off to get pregnant (some stay with their baby daddies if they have sons), or bring home foundling girls from other places. Same sex relationships are very common, to the point where Annika clearly feels slightly sad that she hasn’t seemed to find a romantic relationship with any of the girls she grew up with. Nick-named “Rabbit” growing up, she still finds the tremendous courage to go off into the wider world to find her sister, visiting a number of new places on the airship where she serves as an engineer, and David is both amused and baffled by her lack of self-insight when he sees her many acts of self-sacrifice and bravery throughout the story.

David lost an arm and both his legs, and sustained a fair amount of facial scarring, in a horrible accident as a child, and his mother died to save him. He now has a mechanical eye-piece over part of his face, and mechanical limbs to replace the ones he lost. Most people naturally have trouble seeing past his artificial additions, and women especially seem either repulsed by him or excessively pity him. So when Annika, unused to men in general, treats him with kindness and openness, he’s drawn to her even before he recognises her accent to be the same as his mother’s. In no way an alpha male, David is deeply reluctant to pursue Annika, because of his previous bad luck around women.

The development of their friendship and later romance is a wonderful, slow and gradual process (frankly, both characters were almost too convinced of the other’s disinterest and so reluctant to approach the other that I wanted to reach into the book and shake them both). Yet I’d rather the character have time to get to know each other properly before they declare they madly love each other than fall into instant lust and/or love.

As I’ve come to expect in Brook’s novels, the world building is excellent, and while the first third of the story is very slow and sets up Annika and David’s relationship and gives us their back stories, once the plot takes a sharp turn, it’s frankly action and adventure and unexpected plot twists until the end. As in the other two Iron Seas novels, there are several breath taking action sequences that kept me at the edge of my seat, and once the story got going, I really didn’t want to put the book down. While Heart of Steel is still my absolute favourite, this is a decent second, and I can’t wait to see what Meljean Brook is going to give us next.

Also published on my blog, and Goodreads.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review#77: Thirteen by Kelley Armstrong

This is the final book (at least so far) in Kelley Armstrong’sWomen of the Otherworld series. This review may contain spoilers for previous books in the series, and anyone who hasn’t read Kelley Armstrong before, would be better off starting with Bitten, Dime Store Magic, Haunted, Personal Demon or Spell Bound.

Thirteen starts pretty much immediately after the cliffhanger ending of Waking the Witch. Savannah Levine has rescued her half-brother from a renegade group of supernaturals determined to reveal their existence to the world. They’ve injected Savannah’s half-brother with some something containing the DNA of several supernatural races, and it’s making him really sick. Savannah and her friends need to make sure that the Supernatural Liberation Movement don’t succeed in their plan, but with powerful forces involved, both on the demonic and angelic sides, the struggle could turn into an all-out war, and that would be very bad for humans and supernaturals alike.

As a fan of Kelley Armstrong since 2004, it was both nice and a bit strange to readThirteen, the culmination of all her Women of the Otherworld books. Like the previous book in the series, this book features pretty much every major character in the series, both protagonists of previous books and a large cast of supporting characters. As such, I doubt it’ll be very satisfying to anyone for whom this is their first foray into Armstrong’s supernatural universe. Armstrong writes good heroines, and no one can say that she has cookie cutter characters. While the quality of the series has been a bit varied (I went off it for a bit, only to go back and rediscover why I loved it a few years back), this is a solid ending, and it was great to see all the former heroines and heroes working together towards a common goal.

Savannah, who started out as a supporting character in Stolen and Dime Store Magic wasn’t always a very likable character, and even annoyed me quite a bit in the previous two books in Armstrong’s final trilogy. Yet it was obviously carefully calculated by the author, to show just how much growing and development the character had left to do. I’d rather a character had too many flaws, rather than none and it’s always nice when they develop and mature into someone better after a series of trial and tribulations.

If you’ve read some or all of Armstrong’s other books in this series, then you’ll probably enjoy this one a lot. If you haven’t, do yourself a favour and check out one of the earlier ones I mentioned, they’re some of the finest paranormal fantasy out there.

Also published on my blog.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #75: Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews

While this is sort of a stand-alone book, it fits into the larger framework of the Kate Daniels series, and as such, this book will be best enjoyed if you’ve read the previous 5 books in that series. Also, this review may and probably does contain spoilers for some of the developments in those books.

Andrea Nash lives in a post-apocalyptic version of Atlanta, where technology frequently is disabled when waves of magic sweep through the world, and it keeps things interesting, to say the least. Previously a valued member of the Knights of the Order of Merciful Aid, Andrea was retired when it came out that she is beast-kin, half human, half hyena (lower in status than a were-hyena). Shortly before she was kicked out of the Order, her romantic relationship fell apart, as her boyfriend didn’t take it kindly when she picked the Knights rather than the shapeshifters in a city-wide crisis. So she doesn’t have a whole lot left to lose, to say the least.

Now Andrea works with her best friend Kate (Consort to the Beast Lord, Alpha of all the shapeshifters in Atlanta and the surrounding areas, and generally a pretty scary lady) at Cutting Edge Investigations, trying to put her life back in order. She tends to wake up in the morning curled in the cupboard clutching some sort of weapon, plagued by nightmares about her really shitty past. When the head of Pack security asks Andrea to investigate mysterious deaths at a Pack construction site, she agrees, both because Cutting Edge needs all the business they can get, and because she needs to keep herself busy. The construction company with the dead shapeshifters is owned by Raphael Medrano, though, her ex-lover, and he appears to have moved on in a spectacular way, with a leggy, chesty, air-headed version of Andrea.

Shapeshifters are fiercely territorial and get crazy jealous, but Andrea has spent a lifetime trying to suppress her animal instincts and desperately trying to pass as a normal human. When she’s forced to work closely with Raphael to solve the mysterious murders, however, it may be that she has no choice but to tap into her inner beast – both to solve the case, and win her lover back.

I love Ilona Andrews’ books, pretty much without reservation. I was thrilled when I was actually in the US on release day for this book, and able to pick it up myself in a bookstore. While the book probably works fine for a new reader, to me, who’s seen Andrea’s development through the Kate Daniels books, I suspect that it’s even more rewarding to get Andrea’s full backstory and fight for her own HEA after getting to know her as a secondary character first.

There’s been some talk on the internets of late about Strong Female Characters. The husband and wife team who are Ilona Andrews write PROPER strong female protagonists. They are capable, independent, fiercely protective and loyal to those they care about, not afraid to go out there and kick ass, but just as happy to stay at home and do girly things. Andrea has an exhaustive knowledge about weapons and firearms, and due to her incredibly awful time growing up, has taught herself to use said weapons expertly, so no one will ever mess with her again, and if they do, they’re probably not going to live long enough to regret it.  But she also loves dressing up, doing her hair and reading romance novels.

As I said, this book gives us a back story to Andrea that it would have been strange to include in the main series. As the books are first person narrated, it was fun to see the world in the Kate Daniels books through someone else’s eyes. I especially got a kick out of Andrea’s description of her best friend Kate (who obviously doesn’t spend a lot of time describing herself in the main series) and her mate Curran, the Beast Lord of Atlanta (who Kate obviously has different views about than Andrea).

Like all Andrews books, this novel is action-packed, sometimes terrifically violent, occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, has an amazing cast of supporting characters, as well as main characters you’d love to hang out with (and have on your side in a fight). I think it may be my second favourite book set in the Kate universe, which is very high praise indeed. If you like other books by Ilona Andrews, don’t miss this one.

Originally posted on my blog (also Goodreads)

Malin’s #CBR4 Reviews #70-74: Once Burned by Jeaniene Frost, Timeless by Gail Carriger, Grave Memory by Kalayna Price, The Thief and The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

More of my backlog being cleared, here are five more reviews:

Book 70: Once Burned by Jeaniene Frost. First book in new series of paranormal fantasy books, where a girl who channels electricity and can read the history of objects, and the vampireVlad Tepesh (who hates being called Dracula) fall in lust and get into hijinx. 4 stars.

Book 71: Timeless by Gail Carriger. Fifth and final novel in the Parasol Protectorate series. Fluffy fun. 3 stars.

Book 72: Grave Memory by Kalayna Price. Third book in a well-written paranormal series I discovered through Felicia Day. 3 1/2 stars.

Book 73: The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. I wasn’t very impressed with this book the first time I read it, and nearly stopped reading half the way through. Boy, am I glad I stuck with it. Essential young adult literature. 4 stars.

Book 74: The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. I loved this one the first time I read it, and even more on a second reading, when I really knew how clever and wonderful it was. Everyone should read this book. 5 stars.

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