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.

Magic Bites – Ilona Andrews

7cd76e2e7f5e941597035776a41434f414f4141Kate Davies lives in an Atlanta where magic and technology switch back and forth in waves – you never know which one will be working at any given time (people have come up with great adaptations to make sure they can function in either kind of wave). Kate’s a mercenary, even though it’s clear she has some heavy magic powers, and could be more, if she chose.

When her foster father dies, she offers her services to find the killer, and finds herself in the middle of a potential war between the local Pack of Shapeshifters, and the People (who control vampires).

I liked this world’s versions of both were-creatures and vampires- both are different than your typical take, though the vampires are much different than usual. I also like Kate – she clearly has history, but it’s only explored when it’s relevant, so there’s plenty of time to find out more about her. That said, I’m really interested to know exactly where her magic comes from.

Risuko – David Kudler

1938808347-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_Risuko’s father was a samarai, but his death has left her family poor. And that is why Risuko’s mother sells her to Lady Chiyome. However, she soon finds that the Lady has plans for her – she’s brought back to the school that Lady Chiyome started to train shrine maidens – but they’re more than just priestesses – some of the women are trained as assassins, and more.

Risuko arrives with two other novices, and they begin their training in the kitchen with the Korean cook – even that isn’t as must drudgery as it would seem – they’re learning about healing herbs, and various other things that can be done with food.

As time goes on, it seems that someone is trying to steal something from the envoy of the local lord who’s staying with them. When most of the rest of the temple falls under a sleeping potion, Risuko must figure out who’s the enemy in the temple, and rescue everyone else.

Risuko’s a great character. This is definitely a young adult book, so it’s pretty straightforward, but she pulls you in quickly, and you want to read more to see what she does next.

Ink and Bone – Rachel Caine

eb77cdc142a1a1c597074656a77434f414f4141Jess Brightwell lives in London in an alternate world where the library in Alexandria was never destroyed. It found a way to transmits copies of books everywhere, and now it controls all the knowledge in the world. Jess’s family are smugglers – obtaining original books for buyers who can afford them.

Jess has never shown the same aptitude for smuggling as his twin brother, and so his father manages to get him into the newest postulant class for the Library. The Brightwells see it as a business opportunity to get someone on the inside. Jess also sees it as an opportunity to surround himself with his beloved books.

Once in Alexandria, it’s clear that the there are many agendas in play – the other postulants also seem to have secrets. And it’s soon also clear that the Library itself will stop at nothing to maintain its grip over the world’s knowledge.

This was a very interesting set up – I definitely want to see what happens to Jess and his friends next. The world building was great – it’s a compelling story.

The Hanging Tree – Ben Aaronovitch

f327a1c332481f4597638706c41434f414f4141I am so annoyed that I have to wait for the next book in this series. The last book, Foxglove Summer, was a bit of an interlude from the main story – who is the Faceless Man, and why is he fighting against the Folly? Well, interlude’s over, and Peter Grant’s very much back in the hunt.

This story also gets the Rivers very heavily involved, as Mama Thames’ granddaughter Olivia, daughter of Lady Tyburn, who isn’t so fond of Peter, gets herself involved in a murder, and Peter has to iron things out. How that ends up connecting to the Faceless Man is fascinating, and I really need to get the BF to read this as soon as possible so we can talk about. Not giving away any spoilers is going to kill me.