Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab
Tor / A Darker Shade of Magic #1
“I’m not afraid of dying. But I am afraid of dying here.” She swept her hand over the room, the tavern, the city. “I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”
Kell is one of the Travelers—people who can use magic to travel between parallel universes. He lives in Red London, where magic is bountiful, the monarchs beneficent, and life generally good. His counterpart Holland lives in White London, under the thumb of a brutal brother and sister and in a corrupt and cruel land. Kell’s new partner in crime, the thief Lila, is from Grey London—our London, more or less, magic-less and dull. And no one speaks of Dark London, the dead city that was sealed away, and whose nearness is what corrupts White London.
The idea of the four Londons—the crucial concept behind the book—is an excellent one. I feel like there is a fantastic foundation here for future books, because we spent most of our time in Red London and Grey London, whereas White and Black London were the ones I was most interested in seeing. Both make me think of Fallen London, the the game which has some of the most detailed, thorough, and vibrant world-building I’ve ever experienced. I think having that comparison made me want more out of White London; I wanted a better sense of the class and power structure and details of day to day life. But like I said, there is a lot of groundwork laid here that I am intrigued to see built on.
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Review: Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews
Urban Fantasy / #1 of 8, Kate Daniels
“It’s a reflex. Hear a bell, get food. See an undead, throw a knife. Same thing, really.”
Kate Daniels is a mercenary for hire in a sort of alternate-universe Atlanta where residents have to contend with waves of magic that knock out almost all technology in the city. When someone important to Kate is killed, she begins to investigate, and finds a rash of disturbing crimes that point to a larger mystery involving some of the city’s most powerful leaders.
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Review: Iron Night by M. L. Brennan
Urban Fantasy / #2 of 4, Generation V
“Holy shit. You’re going to feed Titus to a troll?” I felt appalled.
“This is why we don’t name or pet the goats.” Chivalry said blandly.
Vampire Fortitude Scott has gained (somewhat) in self-confidence and ability since the end of Generation V. So when someone is maiming and murdering young men around the city, Fort—once again in defiance of his family—teams up with his shapeshifting fox friend Suzume Hollis in an effort to stop the slaughter. Initially expecting to uncover a run-of-the-mill serial killer, he instead finds himself dealing with paranormal forces, including an enormous conspiracy in the elven community and a blood chillingly evil predator… and he has to do it all without alerting his newly suspicious friend, Matt, to the Scott family’s vampirical secret.
I really, really enjoyed Generation V… and Iron Night was even better. We get more insight into the characters, and the plot is a bit more complex and exciting. There’s never really any doubt who is responsible for the crimes committed in Generation V, whereas as Iron Night keeps you in the dark for a bit longer. And while Luca in Generation V was a nasty piece of work, the villains of Iron Night might just be even nastier (which I can hardly even believe is possible)… so it feels like the stakes are higher. Plus, while I was mostly only attached to Fort and Suzume in the first book and was never really worried for the safety of either of them, I am attached to some of the more expendable secondary characters in Iron Night, and that left me feeling a lot more anxious for a lot more of the book.
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Review: Generation V by M. L. Brennan
Urban Fantasy / #1 out of 4 (so far), Generation V
“I stared. ‘That’s horrible.’
Lulu looked surprised, and shot a confused look at Suzume. ‘Are you sure this is a vampire? He sure doesn’t sound like one.’”
Fortitude Scott finished a film theory degree, works at a terrible coffee shop, and tries at all costs to avoid his family… who are, incidentally, vampires. Unfortunately, he is forced to interact with them when a new vamp (Luca) comes to town. Luca is offered hospitality by Fort’s mother—but a horrified Fort suspects that he is committing unspeakable crimes against the human residents of the Scott family territory. This doesn’t particularly perturb the rest of his family, and so it’s up to Fort and his one ally, the powerful but sometimes unreliable kitsune Suzume, to stop Luca however they can.
Generation V is probably the vampire story I’ve most enjoyed since… well, since Buffy was on the air. What it has in common with Buffy, and what most endears it to me, is the way it pokes fun at and undercuts the drama of vampire mythology. Madeline Scott, the feared vampire overlord extraordinaire, wears enormous glasses and grandma sweaters. Chivalry Scott, Fort’s older brother, is exceptionally polite and well-mannered and forever bitter that wearing a cravat is no longer fashionable. And Fort is a vegetarian.
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Review: Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
Urban fantasy – Standalone
“I was afraid you’d turn into one of those literary types who say books can change the world when they’re feeling good about themselves and it’s only a book when anybody challenges them… You can speak casually about burning the Alf Yeom for the same reason you’d be horrified if I suggested burning the Satanic Verses—because you have reactions, not convictions.”
A young hacker, going by the nickname Alif, finds himself the target of an authoritarian government when he creates a highly desirable and dangerous computer program, able to identify people via keystroke patterns. The political and the technological collide with the spiritual and fantastical when Alif is given an ancient book of tales (the Alf Yeom) told by the jinn, creatures out of Arabian mythology who turn out to be not so mythological. It transpires that the Alf Yeom contains a key of some kind, and it is up to Alif and his allies to try and keep both the Alf Yeom and his program out of the wrong hands.
G. Willow Wilson is best known right now for being the writer behind the new and very popular comic series featuring Kamala Khan, a young American Muslim woman, taking up the mantle of superhero Ms. Marvel. I am not much of a comics reader, but having heard such good stuff about Wilson, I still very much wanted to read her writing. Picking up her debut novel seemed the perfect way to do this, and for some extra motivation it was also the book of the month for March at the Mary Sue Regulars Book Club.
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Review: Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson
Urban Fantasy – Standalone
“He went to one of the windows to look down on the city that was thousands of feet below the observation deck of his tower. Toronto was in darkness now, except for the lights that picked out the malls with their independent power sources. To his left was the dark mass of Lake Ontario and the red glow of Niagara Falls on its horizon. This ruined city was his kingdom.”
Brown Girl in the Ring is Afro-Caribbean inspired magical realism, set in Toronto after economic collapse has led to the city’s core being abandoned by the government. Toronto’s wealthy citizens move out to the suburbs, leaving the downtown a decaying, lawless center. In that center, a young woman who can see people’s deaths, Ti-Jeanne, balances learning about her gift with new motherhood and avoiding street violence and gangs. When her child’s father (Tony) approaches her for help getting out of gang life, however, she agrees to help him—but things don’t go as planned, and Ti-Jeanne finds herself targeted by the gang’s brutal, relentless leader.
There are a lot of things I enjoyed about Brown Girl in the Ring. Right off the bat, I liked its setting in a rundown, post-apocalyptic Toronto—what Canadian doesn’t want to see Toronto destroyed? It’s only the natural outcome of having elected Rob Ford (Kidding Toronto friends, kidding!).
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Review: Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
Fantasy/Thriller – Angry Robot (US/UK) – Standalone Novel
Set in Johannesburg, Zoo City is a fast-paced novel with a new take on the idea of a spirit animal or a familiar. These animal companions appear spontaneously, and the ‘animalled’ they pair themselves with are stigmatized, living in slums and struggling to find work. For the humans who suddenly gain these familiars, their appearance is also associated with the inexplicable manifestation of a magical power of some kind. Protagonist Zinzi December’s power is an ability to find lost objects, and it is this skill that launches her, and her sloth companion, on the missing-person investigation that is the premise of Zoo City.
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