Clean Sweep – Ilona Andrews

372e3dfc12eab8d597355586941434f414f4141Well here’s an interesting idea – vampires and werewolves as aliens, and only some people on Earth know that they exist. Earth is neutral, so there are a number of Inns here, and their Innkeepers have incredible powers as long as they’re in the Inn.

Dina has been given an Inn that was abandoned, so she’s in the process of establishing her bond, and rebuilding the Inn’s reputation. She only has one permanent guest (and there are a lots of other aliens than just werewolves and vampires.)

When Sean Evans arrives in town, several of the neighborhood dogs are killed, and Dina immediately suspects him, because he’s a werewolf, and though it’s rather impolite, that could have been him establishing his territory. Naturally, this gets them off on a very bad foot, but they do quickly establish that it’s not Sean, but something else rather nasty is in the neighborhood.

Naturally, the vampires end up being involved. (While the werewolves were genetically engineered to fight in a war on their home planet, the vampires are members of a religiously based empire). They end up with Arland, a rather attractive vampire Marshall, at the inn, tending to this dying uncle, who tried to take out the assassin that’s ended up in the neighborhood.

This is a really interesting set up – the universe has a lot of potential. There’s definitely a possible love interest (or two), which is par for the course of this kind of book, but also doesn’t seem like it’ll be so distracting as others in the genre can be. There are mysteries to solve (Dina’s parents are missing), and I definitely am looking forward to seeing what happens next.

 

Heart’s Blood – Juliet Marillier

565ea238782bad8593966515951434f414f4141Caitrin has run away from a terrible situation at home, and finds herself at Whistling Tor. The townspeople try and convince her to leave, talking about a curse on the chieftain’s house on the Tor, but he has sent his man to town to advertise for a scribe, and Caitrin sees the opportunity to practice the work she thought she’d lost, and earn her way elsewhere when the work is done.

Her first introduction to Anluan, the chieftain, is not good – he finds her in his father’s garden, admiring the rare Heart’s Blood flower planted there, and assumes the worst of her.

Together, Anluan and Caitrin must unravel the curse on this family, despite dark forces working against them. Things become even more complicated when the Normans come to the Tor and demand that Anluan cede it to them. (This is set in Ireland during one of the King Henry’s times – it’s not very specific.) Anluan has never been trusted by his people because of the curse, but they must now work together to save the Tor.

This story had to have been inspired by ‘Beauty and the Beast’ – mirrors play a central role, and Anluan is slightly disfigured due to a childhood illness. However, the family curse is wonderfully unique. And Caitrin is a fantastic character in her own right. She and Anluan have both suffered deep traumas, and this story is all about them learning to work together, and eventually, healing each other. This is definitely another wonderful book by this author.

Avalon – Stephen R. Lawhead

c04626cf202c434597062796a77434f414f4141Having finally finished the five book Pendragon Cycle, I figured I might as well finish things off for good, and read this addendum to the series.

James Arthur Stuart was an officer in the British Army, and a generally decent, if nondescript guy. While trying to save his home after his parents die, he finds he’s not who he thought he was. Not only is he really a Duke in Scotland, he’s actually King Arthur reborn, and through his recent bloodlines, the King of England, after the current king commits suicide.

What this story ends up being is a bit of a commentary on modern society. The prime minister of the time has been pushing through reforms to abolish the monarchy, and is one referendum away from doing away with it entirely. James comes onto the scene not knowing if he’ll actually be king in a week or two, but knowing that the British still need a monarch. Channeling a touch of the second sight, and helped by Embries (Merlin), who’s still kicking around, he brings a message of a monarchy to restore the greatness of the British people, and the Summer Kingdom.

Naturally, since Merlin is still there, Morgian is too, but she’s been reduced to Moira, basically manipulating men from the shadows. I didn’t really like what she became. Merlin kept his power and dignity through the thousand plus years since Arthur died, and while Morgian was never dignified, she had power, and it seems odd that she didn’t keep more of it. It did make the story rather pat, though.

What I found far more interesting is that though this was written in 1999, it pretty well encapsulates today – people cynical about all those in power, and fed up with it all. Reading some of the political machinations was a little eery. It’s practically twenty years on from when this book was written, and it could be today.

From a High Tower – Mercedes Lackey

581f13d98a6e28d596a61566f41434f414f4141Cross ‘Rapunzel’ with the Wild West, and you get this tale, from Lackey’s Elemental Masters series, which are all set in the turn of the last century, and feature magic of the Elements – Air, Water, Fire and Earth.

Giselle was adopted by an Earth Master, taken from a family that could barely afford to feed the seven children that came before her. They go to live in an abbey in the middle of the German forest, not because Mother wants to keep her to herself, but because Giselle will become an Air Master, and it’s best to raise those with Air magic far from an influences that could turn evil. It’s during this time that Giselle is nearly assaulted, and a few friends of her mother’s, members of the Bruderscaft (last featured in Blood Red), teach her to shoot, and other ways to defend herself.

When Giselle’s mother unexpectedly passes away, she’s at loose ends, and not sure how to support herself. Her friends have the idea of having her tour around and win shooting contests at local fairs, but she has to pretend to be a boy to do this, and that becomes difficult. Near the end of her rope, she stumbled upon a touring Wild West show, and they’re on the lookout for a female sharpshooter. Even better, the head of the show’s Pawnee contingent is the American native equivalent of an Air Master, so Giselle is among people sympathetic to her magic.

The author actually included an intro this book, because there was apparently a German author named Karl May who wrote about the Wild West in the last 19th century, despite having clearly never been there. He’s still incredibly popular even today, and formed the German ideas of the American West. In this book, the show isn’t as well received as it was in other European countries, and it’s because their portrayal of the Indians in their show doesn’t match May’s. Giselle is able to help them modify the show, and they’re a rousing success.

Rosa, the principal from Blood Red, also makes an appearance in this story, when the company goes into her part of the German Woods. Since there are magic workers in the company, she’s there to make sure they don’t run afoul of any deep woods nasties. She and Giselle become quick friends. She also helps clear up the central magical arc in the book, which I won’t detail, because it’s spoilery.

I really enjoyed this book. The Wild West company is so much fun. There’s no romantic angle, which is nice – it’s Giselle learning about her powers, and becoming good friends with some very different, but fundamentally like minded people. Another great entry in this series.

Grail – Stephen R. Lawhead

9b72e2a25801009596a4a636e41434f414f4141The last two books in this series are a little out of sequence, since Arthur did die and was taken off to Avalon in the third book. So here in the fifth book, we have the story of the grail, in the middle of one of the times not covered in Arthur.

After the battles covered in Pendragon, Arthur almost died, but Merlin brought him to King Avallach’s palace, where Avallach used the Grail to heal Arthur. At that point, taken over by pride, Arthur decides to build a shrine to the Grail nearby, and naturally, Morgain gets involved to ruin his plans.

She’s had a daughter by her step-son Lot, named Morgaws, and she sends Morgaws in to corrupt the fellowship. She manages to ensnare Llenlleawg (the closest thing to Lancelot in these stories) to her side, and the grail is stolen, along with the Queen. (Again, this the closest you get in this series to Lancelot and Guinevere running off together – in this case, it’s against Gwenhwyvar and the champion’s actual will.) The Cymbrogi must journey into Llyonesse to get the Grail back. It’s a harrowing journey.

This is an interesting way to bring Morgaws/Morgause into the story – it’s always interesting to see how different people interpret Morgan and Morgause – sometimes they’re the same person, or they can be different, but with various relationships to each other. This was a good way to bring the two as separate entities into the story.

It was an interesting interlude, but somewhat short – I think it would have worked better as a section of Arthur.

The Blue Girl – Charles de Lint

ecf562906d3af1959724a656777434f414f4141When Imogene’s mother moves their family into Newford, Imogene is determined to make the most of things. She quickly makes friends with Maxine – who doesn’t seem to have any friends at school, but is the most interesting person Imogene sees. And at the same time, she manages to come to the attention of Adrian, the school’s resident ghost.

Adrian was also a loner in life, until he caught the attention of the school’s brownies. The problem with brownies is that when they’re taken for granted, they get a bit feral, and the school’s brownies are definitely feeling neglected. They think they’re being kind to Adrian, but in a moment of fun, he dies. He’s been hanging around the school ever since, unable to cross over.

This is a definite young adult book, so even though there are some pretty heavy themes in this book (bullying gets some extensive treatment), they’re lighter than the more adult Newford books would be. There is some cross over with some of the other adult Newford characters, but this book easily stands alone. Imogene, Maxine and Adrian are interesting characters, and this is a fun high school story, with a much more realistic feel to it than other YA. (Funny to say about a fundamentally fantasy story, but it’s true.) This is also a great introduction to the larger world of Newford, and would probably work as well for adults as young adults in that way.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – Natasha Pulley

038adf31df89783596f2b2b6a77434f414f4141In 1883, Thaniel Steepleton finds a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later, it saves his life by raising an alarm that causes him to leave the scene of a massive bomb explosion moments before it happens. After the bomb, Thaniel goes in search of the watchmaker, who turns out to be a Japanese man named Kieta Mori. Mori’s workshop is a place of wonder, but since the bomb was clockwork, he’s a suspect in the bombing.

Sounds straightforward, right? Well, there’s a subplot with an Oxford trained physicist (a woman), and Mori’s some kind of clairvoyant, and then things just get weird. I read this mostly to get to the end so I could see what happens. It’s not bad, but I can’t say it’s good either. I’m actually having trouble trying to talk about it. I don’t feel like there was any sort of real resolution, though I suppose you could argue there was. I think this book just wasn’t my cup of tea.