A Deadly Education (Scholomance, #1)

A Deadly EducationA Deadly Education
by Naomi Novik
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781529100877
Series: Scholomance #1
Publication Date: March 4, 2021
Pages: 320
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Random House

Enter a school of magic unlike any you have ever encountered.

There are no teachers, no holidays, friendships are purely strategic, and the odds of survival are never equal. Once you're inside, there are only two ways out: you graduate or you die.

El Higgins is uniquely prepared for the school's many dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out untold millions - never mind easily destroy the countless monsters that prowl the school.

Except, she might accidentally kill all the other students, too. So El is trying her hardest not to use it . . . that is, unless she has no other choice.


Let me get this out of the way right up front: the amount of introspective, meandering, narrative in this book is crippling.  There is a 12 page scene devoted to El just walking the length of the book stacks in the school library.  Granted, it’s a magical library, and part of the point in this scene is the schools way of stretching space when it wants to, so this scene is effective at making the reader feel the interminable-ness of El’s trip to the end of the row to see what’s attacking the other kids, but while she had the benefit of adrenaline, I was just bored after 6 pages of it.  And there are several further instances of the narrative just wandering away from the main subject or banging on way too long about one thing or another.

And El is … well, someone needs to tell El to pull her head out of her own ass.  She’s rude – unspeakably rude – to people who don’t deserve it, and then bemoans in all her endless inner dialogs about how much she just wants friends, to be liked.  The prophecy, in my opinion, isn’t convincing enough a reason for her to act like such a bitch.

Saying all that, it’s a heck of a good story.  If I was irritated while reading it, it was because the Scholomance construct, how the school works, and the other characters were so fascinating, and I felt like the eternal inner-narrative and El’s occasionally appalling rudeness got in the way of the greater story.  When I wasn’t drowning in El’s attitude, I was having a rollicking good time with everything else.

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2022 and while it’s a perfect fit for Dark Academia, I’ve already read for that square, so I’m going to use it instead for Murder & Mayhem by the Book.  Much of the action takes place in the school library, and El finds a spell book that becomes important to her and her friends in the second half of the book.

 

Crowbones re-read (World of the Others, #3)

CrowbonesCrowbones
by Anne Bishop
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780593337332
Series: The World of the Others #3
Publication Date: March 8, 2022
Pages: 368
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

I don’t typically re-review re-reads, but my first reading of Crowbones left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied; in spite of a returning cast of characters I loved, the story felt disjointed and scattered.  I knew as soon as I finished I’d need to re-read it to be able to determine of it was the story, or it was just me.

I’m happy to say, it was just me.  While my thoughts from the first review still stand overall, the story felt more cohesive and not at all disjoined the second time around.  Some of this new found clarity is because it’s a re-read, of course; Bishop has a tendency to switch to the 3rd person POV of “them” without naming “them”.  When this works well, it adds a bit of buildup to the story; if the author doesn’t nail it though, it can muddle things.  This time around, I knew who all the “them”s were, and I knew who the mystery guest was, which just made everything jell nicely, making it easier to immerse myself in the world and the story.

I still think it’s a 4 star read: as much as I enjoyed it, it’s still not on par with the previous books, but it’s a 4+, rather than a 4-.

I’m going to use this for my Raven/Free Square on my Halloween Bingo 2022 card.

Soul Taken (Mercy Thompson, #13)

Soul TakenSoul Taken
by Patricia Briggs
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780440001614
Series: Mercy Thompson #13
Publication Date: August 23, 2022
Pages: 389
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

The vampire Wulfe is missing. Since he’s deadly, possibly insane, and his current idea of “fun” is stalking me, some may see it as no great loss. But, warned that his disappearance might bring down the carefully constructed alliances that keep our pack safe, my mate and I must find Wulfe—and hope he’s still alive. As alive as a vampire can be, anyway.

But Wulfe isn’t the only one who has disappeared. And now there are bodies, too. Has the Harvester returned to the Tri-Cities, reaping souls with his cursed sickle? Or is he just a character from a B horror movie and our enemy is someone else?

The farther I follow Wulfe’s trail, the more twisted—and darker—the path becomes. I need to figure out what’s going on before the next body on the ground is mine.


My first read of HB bingo, done and dusted.  I tore through this one in one day, which is easier to do when walking is still an iffy proposition; I have to do something while icing my leg.

The first chapter frustrated me, as Briggs put the reader in the same confusing space Mercy was in, but strung the confusion out just a little bit too long.  Once past that though, the reader is treated to some answers to questions left open in the last Alpha/Omega series book, Wild Sign (if you don’t read this series it doesn’t matter in the least).  This scene slowly segues into the main plot of the book, the disappearance of Wulfe, and secondarily, Stefan and Marsilia.

It was hard for me to move on from Sherwood’s intrigue, smallish though it was, and I was disappointed that he played little to no part in the main story, but the race to figure out why so many low-level magic users disappeared, and finding Wulfe and his connection to events was one of the better storylines, I think (probably because Briggs laid off on the black magic stuff).  Wulfe’s story is rather convoluted, but I suspect Briggs has no intention of bringing clarity to his character.  Even though the plot is about the vampires, the story itself is about the fae, and Zee gets a little more depth.

I’m rambling a bit.  It was a good read.  Not blow the doors off spectacular, but good.

I read this for the Urban Decay square in 2022’s Halloween Bingo.  It also definitely fits Relics & Curiosities, Monsters and Splatter.

Ruby Fever (Hidden Legacies, #6)

Ruby FeverRuby Fever
by Ilona Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780062878397
Series: Hidden Legacy #6
Publication Date: August 23, 2022
Pages: 384
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

An escaped spider, the unexpected arrival of an Imperial Russian Prince, the senseless assassination of a powerful figure, a shocking attack on the supposedly invincible Warden of Texas, Catalina’s boss... And it’s only Monday.

Within hours, the fate of Houston—not to mention the House of Baylor—now rests on Catalina, who will have to harness her powers as never before. But even with her fellow Prime and fiancé Alessandro Sagredo by her side, she may not be able to expose who’s responsible before all hell really breaks loose.


This arrived on Wednesday, and I tried, I really did, to hold out for Halloween Bingo.  I made it 2 whole hours before I caved.  I don’t think I’ll need it for HB, but if I do, I’m happy to re-read it.

I admit that of the two sets of characters in Hidden Legacies, I prefer Nevada and Connor, featured in the first 3.  I think in part because there was less romance and more telekinesis; I think I prefer someone throwing huge things around to hand-to-hand combat and magic singing.  Still, it’s the same family and it’s the family that pulls me in and makes me want to re-read, as much as the action.

A couple of random things: I was not surprised by the revelation of Caesar’s identity; I had that nailed after book 1.  I was surprised at Andrews’ attempts to humanise Victoria, and the whole ‘we love you even though you’re terrible’.  I did not buy that at all.  I was also a little surprised by Grandpa, although I shouldn’t have been; I remember well Allessando’s muttered comment in the first Catalina book.

The story wraps up all the open threads, while definitely leaving a few openings for Arabella’s story, presumably in books 7-9, but I read something on the authors’ site about ‘now that we’re through with main-steam publishing’ that makes me wonder if Arabella will get her three books or not, and if so, if we’re going to have to wait years for the authors’ to get around to writing them. (I’m getting bitter about how long it’s taken to get Hugh’s second book, never mind Julie’s).

Heroic Hearts

Heroic HeartsHeroic Hearts
by Anne Bishop, Charlaine Harris, Chloe Neill, Jim Butcher, Kerrie L. Hughes, Kevin Hearne, Patricia Briggs
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780593099186
Publication Date: May 3, 2022
Pages: 350
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

In this short story collection of courage, adventure, and magic, heroes—ordinary people who do the right thing—bravely step forward.

In Jim Butcher’s “Little Things,” the pixie Toot-Toot discovers an invader unbeknownst to the wizard Harry Dresden . . . and in order to defeat it, he’ll have to team up with the dread cat Mister.

In Patricia Briggs’s “Dating Terrors,” the werewolf Asil finds an online date might just turn into something more—if she can escape the dark magic binding her.

In Charlaine Harris’s “The Return of the Mage,” the Britlingen mercenaries will discover more than they’ve bargained for when they answer the call of a distress beacon on a strange and remote world.

And in Kelley Armstrong’s “Comfort Zone,” the necromancer Chloe Saunders and the werewolf Derek Souza are just trying to get through college. But they can’t refuse a ghost pleading for help.

ALSO INCLUDES STORIES BY Annie Bellet * Anne Bishop * Jennifer Brozek * Kevin Hearne * Nancy Holder * Kerrie L. Hughes * Chloe Neill * R.R. Virdi


This sounds like a romance, but as the cover makes clear it’s an urban fantasy anthology, and the title refers to acts of heroism by characters that would normally be considered bit players or underdogs.

And it’s an excellent collection; with the exception of one (The Vampires Karamazov, which felt like a story fragment, or at least, a story with an incomplete ending), I enjoyed all of them; not something I can often say about anthologies.  Of course this collection’s deck is stacked, if you know what I mean, with authors like Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, Anne Bishop, Kevin Hearne, and Chloe Neil, each of them offering short stories that complement or extend their most popular series.

I’m not sure I can come up with a favourite.  As much as I enjoyed all my favourite authors’ entries, when I think back across all of them the two that immediately come to mind as stories that ‘stick’ are Jennifer Brozek’s The Necessity of Pragmatic Magic – perhaps because I might overly identify with Felicia, who only wants to be left alone, and Kerry L. Hughes’ Troll Life which somehow charmed me in ways I can’t quite pinpoint; maybe the sentient trains?

Patricia Briggs’ story features Asil, Dating Terrors, and while it’s always fun to read about Asil – he makes me laugh – and the story is good, I have to admit I think he plays to best advantage when he’s surrounded by Charles, Anna, Bran and the rest of the pack.  For those interested, this short story is not the same one as Asil and the not-date found in the Laurel K. Hamilton anthology Fantastic Hope; it’s related, I suspect, and I’m certain Dating Terrors takes place after Asil and the Not-Date.  It also appears to have long-reaching implications for Asil and his fans; I’m wondering if they’ll play out in the next Alpha and Omega book?

The Good, The Bad, and the Undead (The Hollows, #2)

The Good The Bad And The UndeadThe Good The Bad And The Undead
by Kim Harrison
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780061744518
Series: The Hollows #2
Publication Date: October 13, 2009
Pages: 464
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: HarperCollins

To save herself and her vampire roommate, former bounty hunter Rachel Morgan must confront six feet of sheer supernatural seduction—the vampire master—and dark secrets she’s hidden even from herself.


 

This is a better written book than the first one – a tighter plot, a (slightly) more likeable MC.  But I’m still giving it 3.5 stars because I find the whole situation with Ivy deeply disturbing and the author hasn’t justified it to my satisfaction.  I don’t dislike Ivy, but the dynamic – even with the story-line geared toward engendering sympathy – just feels really exploitative.

Rachel’s personality, while improved, still failed to click with me.  I have to believe, still, that future books are better; there’s an “Extras” at the end of this ebook (from the library) that had two “articles” written by Rachel Morgan about vampires and fairies/pixies, and her voice in these – dry, funny, a little snarky – is what I expect her voice to be in the books, and so far, it’s definitely not.

In both books so far, Rachel is rather strident about the line between white and black magic and her morals appeared to be set in stone, but when the rubber hit the road in this one, she crossed that line in order to achieve a greater good.  But boy, she caved quick; she didn’t waste any time offering and accepting a rather dark deal. View Spoiler »  She has a massive fear of ley line magic, but once she figures out she can do it, she starts playing with it in a scene with the pixies that was great, but didn’t do a lot to establish her creditability or integrity as the heroine.

None of this is to say I didn’t enjoy the book; as I said at the start, it’s a much better story.  I just haven’t found my groove with the characters yet, and I’m definitely up for book 3.  I continue to see hints that future books are going to be more my jam.  But I’m glad I can get them at my library; if I’d bought these first two, I’m not sure I’d be willing to go further.

Dead Witch Walking (The Hollows, #1)

Dead Witch WalkingDead Witch Walking
by Kim Harrison
Rating: ★★★½
Series: The Hollows #1
Publication Date: October 13, 2009
Pages: 432
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: HarperCollins

Vampires rule the darkness in a predator-eat-predator world rife with dangers beyond imagining—and it's Rachel Morgan's job to keep that world civilized.

A bounty hunter and a witch with serious sex appeal and an attitude, she'll bring 'em back alive, dead . . . or undead.


 

I remember starting to read this years ago, and I wasn’t able to finish it – I was bored before I got much beyond the 3rd chapter.  Speaking to my sister the other day, she mentioned that it had taken her 3 tries to get through the first book, but after that got hooked on the series.  So I figured I’d give it another try, since the ongoing UF series’ I enjoy are getting thin on the ground, and I checked it out from my library.

I got through it this time but as a first book, it’s weaker than most.  Ultimately, it’s enjoyable, but Harrison makes you work for it by introducing an MC that’s supposed to be a badass witch, but is so timid it boggles the mind she survived her job as long as she did.  She goes out on her own and partners with a living-vampire named Ivy and the two spend the book hovering in this weird quasi-sexual-assault dynamic that was chewing on my last nerve before the half-way mark.  Hard to really get on-board with a heroine that acts like she’s about to suffer the vapours for most of the book.  Jenks the pixie, was, as least, a consistent and delightful character and I was charmed by his entire family.

Things did pick up right towards the end, when Rachel finally found some spirit, but honestly I was on the fence about whether or not I’d read book 2 until I read a sneak peak at the end, for a book much further into the series, containing enough mini-spoilers to actually get me seriously interested in continuing the series.  Guess that sneak peak paid for itself in this case.

Paper & Blood (Ink & Sigil, #2)

Paper & BloodPaper & Blood
by Kevin Hearne
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780356515243
Series: Ink & Sigil #2
Publication Date: August 12, 2021
Pages: 336
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Orbit

 

Well, this was fun.  The follow up to the first book, Ink & Sigil, takes place in Melbourne, Australia, my current residence of record.  Specifically, in the Dandenong Ranges, one of my favorite places here, as it’s primarily rain forest.

This is not a mystery in any sense, but more a quest.  Al and Buck arrive in Melbourne to assist the apprentice sigil agent there with finding her master, who felt a disturbance in the wards, went to investigate, and never returned.  On their way to her last known location, they pick up a hitchhiker, Al’s receptionist, who should be in Scotland but isn’t, Gladys-who-has-seen-some-shite, and meet up with Connor, a/k/a Atticus, the Iron Druid.  Once they get to the trail, they pick up a few more adventurers, some old friends and some new.

This is the rag-tag band that goes out to save the missing sigil agents, if they can be saved, and battle the ever stranger beasts, unimagined chimeras, that spring up in their path.  The only unanswered questions are how the entity arrived and why, but those are answered 2/3rds of the way through rather matter-of-factly, so there’s really no buildup of suspense – just a few minor skirmishes, a perilous passage, and finally the epic battle royale and showdown with those responsible.

Quests have never been my jam, so there was an element of unmet expectation for me.  By dint of my reading tastes, I unconsciously kept waiting for a climax or big reveal.  But other than that, which the setting more than made up for, I enjoyed the story.  The characters felt less over-the-top for me this time around and the humor slightly less adolescent-male, though the hobgoblin, Buck, made up for the quantity with some stunning quality here and there.  I could wish that were toned down a bit more.

I happened to read the Acknowledgments that are at the end, first, and noted that Hearne had every intention of visiting Australia to do the research for this book until the Pandemic we all know and love (to hate) reared its ugly head.  He was forced to get the details second hand and I have to say, having been to all the places he’s mentioned, he and his sources, did a bang up job of getting it right.  The only two tiny details I caught, and only because they vexed me when I arrived here 14 years ago, was in the scene at the Healesville Hotel.  The first is that, unless things have changed, there is no table service at the bar.  The vast majority of casual dining/drinking establishments here don’t have table service.  You order at the counter and then pay at the counter before you leave.  The second is that Ya-ping ordered an iced tea.  I’d kill to be able to order iced tea here – the flavoured stuff is becoming popular here now in a niche way, but they still think iced black tea is a sacrilege.  Both of these things are entirely inconsequential, and I mention them only for the opportunity to vent about them.

I suspect I’m not strictly the target demographic for this series, but I enjoy it anyway and I’m looking forward to the third book, where, hopefully, Gladys-who-has-seen-some-shite will once again play a role.  I like her.

I read this for Halloween Bingo and it is the perfect book for In the Dark, Dark Woods as you can see in the above pictures I took in the Dandenong Ranges. It would also work for Cryptozoologist, as the story is littered with chimeras that include a dragon-turtle-spider and a cassowary-cobra to name but two.

Bayou Moon (The Edge, #2)

Bayou MoonBayou Moon
by Ilona Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780441019458
Series: Novel of the Edge #2
Publication Date: September 28, 2010
Pages: 480
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

 

I’d been told ages ago that The Edge series got better as it went along.  And this second entry was certainly different from the first.

We start off with just one of the characters that played a part in On the Edge, the werewolf, William.  He’s approached by the Weird’s version of the CIA to retrieve something from another clan in another part of the Edge, in the Louisiana territory, where shifters are killed on principle.

Cerise’s family is old and used to part of the aristocracy of the Weird, but was banished generations ago.  They live in a constant state of feud with another old family, and her parents have been kidnapped in the feud’s latest volley.  But there’s another hand running this latest skirmish and it’s after the knowledge Cerise’s grandparents took with them to their graves.  Or maybe not.

This book has a much more sci-fi feel than any of Andrews’ other books save for the Innkeeper series, which came along later.  It’s not science fiction in the strict sense, because what’s done by the antagonist of the story is done entirely with magic, but the scientific processes are applied to these magical ‘experiments’.  The results are cryptozoological creatures that are a horrifying mix of plant, animal and human.  I’m not, generally, a fan of this kind of thing, and it was the part of the book I liked the least.

The characters overcame this though.  There was just something about Cerise’s huge family that was endearing; all of them vastly different from each other and as a whole a lot of fun to read about.

The final battle was … unsatisfactory.  The thing they overlooked seemed too big a thing to overlook, especially for William who fought this antagonist twice before. And the ending was too fairy tale for my tastes, coming within sight of being twee.

It’s sort of a weird book for me, because I was enjoying it as I read it, but after finishing remembered as many of the bits that I didn’t like as I did the bits I did.  But overall, a good read.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021 and it definitely fits the Cryptozoology square, with its characters that are human/plant/animal hybrids.  It would also work for Mad Scientists and Evil Geniuses, as well as Terror in a Dark Town, and Shifter.

On the Edge (Novel of the Edge, #1)

On the EdgeOn the Edge
by Ilona Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780441017805
Series: Novel of the Edge #1
Publication Date: September 29, 2009
Pages: 336
Genre: Fiction, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

 

Well, it just goes to show you: people change and you should never say never.  I read this book back in 2016 and my review from that reading was … unfavourable, ending with my declaration that I’d never read the book again.

Shows you what I know.  I not only read it again, I liked it better than I did the first time.  It’s still a little too PNR for me, but I found it easier to get into the story, the setting and the characters.  Maybe because I’d already read it and had a vague recollection of not liking the romantic interest, I found him less unbearable than I expected to, and the non-consent issues didn’t feel as egregious this time around, only typically arrogant.

I can’t really say why, except maybe I’ve read more Ilona Andrews’ since, or my mood was more receptive to the story.  Who knows?  But I went from rating this 3 stars and never reading it again, to rating it 4 stars and buying a copy of it for my shelves.  Along with the other 3 book in the series.

 

I’ve been intending to read this since I ordered it back in July, but its arrival during Halloween Bingo was fortuitous;  it’s a great fit for the Relics and Curiosities square.  The story line centers on a powerful artefact from a previous civilisation that eats magic and spits out something very akin to a demon hound.