Book Review: London Steampunk series

kissofsteelKiss of Steel/Heart of Iron
Bec McMaster
Victorian Steampunk Urban Fantasy Romance
400ish pages
Published 2012/2013

Holy crap. I have only read the first two of this series – I have three more to read. (My Lady Quicksilver, Forged By Desire, and Of Silk and Steam, with a second series in the same universe called The Blue Blood Conspiracy.)

THESE ARE SO GOOD.

Victorian Steampunk in London with vampires, mechs, and werewolves (sort of) with romance, a political conspiracy plot, and plenty of action? YES PLEASE. These books are excellently written, with a hefty plot that moves at a perfect pace. Both romances have been very believable and intertwined seamlessly with the larger world’s plot. Each book is a hefty length, enough to really get absorbed in and flesh out everything that needs to be covered, without dragging on and getting old. The characters are fascinating – even the side characters are interesting enough that I really hope future books focus on them.

I don’t have a single bad thing to say about this series, and I can’t wait to read the next books. I am forcing myself to take a break from the series, even though I have the next two books, because I have library books that are due sooner that I need to read.

The first book, Kiss of Steel, is available on Kindle Unlimited, my library had #2 and #4, and #3 is also on Kindle Unlimited, so they’ve been very convenient to read. This series is definitely going on one my list of best reads for this year, it’s that good.

If you like Steampunk, READ THESE.

From the cover of Kiss of Steel:

Honoria Todd has more secrets than most people and she’s hiding them in Whitechapel. Blade is the master of the rookeries and agrees to protect her, but at what price?

Most people avoid the dreaded Whitechapel district. For Honoria Todd, it’s the last safe haven as she hides from the Blue Blood aristocracy that rules London through power and fear.

Blade rules the rookeries-no one dares cross him. It’s been said he faced down the Echelon’s army single–handedly, that ever since being infected by the blood–craving he’s been quicker, stronger, and almost immortal.

When Honoria shows up at his door, his tenuous control comes close to snapping. She’s so…innocent. He doesn’t see her backbone of steel-or that she could be the very salvation he’s been seeking.

From the cover of Heart of Iron:heartofiron

In Victorian London, if you’re not a blue blood of the Echelon then you’re nothing at all. The Great Houses rule the city with an iron fist, imposing their strict “blood taxes’ on the nation, and the Queen is merely a puppet on a string…

Lena Todd makes the perfect spy. Nobody suspects the flirtatious debutante could be a sympathizer for the humanist movement haunting London’s vicious blue blood elite. Not even the ruthless Will Carver, the one man she can’t twist around her little finger, and the one man whose kiss she can’t forget…

Stricken with the loupe and considered little more than a slave-without-a-collar to the blue bloods, Will wants nothing to do with the Echelon or the dangerous beauty who drives him to the very edge of control. But when he finds a coded letter on Lena-a code that matches one he saw on a fire-bombing suspect-he realizes she’s in trouble. To protect her, he must seduce the truth from her.

With London on the brink of revolution, Lena and Will must race against time-and an automaton army-to stop the humanist plot before it’s too late. But as they fight to save a city, the greatest danger might just be to their hearts…

Book Review: The Wolves of Dynamo

wolvesThe Wolves of Dynamo
Gareth S. Young
Urban Fantasy
297 pages
Published 2016

This book arrived unexpectedly in the mail – I believe it was from a Goodreads Giveaway, but I was never notified I’d won one. It’s even signed by the author!

I am….a little puzzled on how I feel about this book. It has a bit of a confusing, dream-like quality to it, which fits the book, but left me a little less than satisfied. It always felt like I was forgetting details, or like the book assumed I knew things about the world that I didn’t. (Much like many dreams.) The plot was unique, the characters could have used more depth, the division between forest and city was indistinct, and the conclusion was unsatisfying. It could have been very good, but I think it needs a lot more polish.

The physical book itself felt like an ARC, even though it’s not. I think it’s the simplistic cover and the typesetting. It just doesn’t feel – finished. Like much of the book. I’d give this a pass, but I might be interested in future writings by the author, if his style matures and his editor improves.

From the cover of The Wolves of Dynamo:

Thirteen-year-old Eileen MacCormick has always called Dynamo City home. Its bustling streets, imposing Cathedral, and enveloping forest fascinate her, giving her solace after the death of her father. But after moving closer to the forest she finds so comforting, she discovers that it hides a dark, magical world.

Eileen’s life changes irrevocably when she crosses paths with a murderer who is terrorizing the city. Heartsick, she finds herself drawn back to the forest where an enclave of mysterious wolves reveal themselves to her. Eileen is shocked to learn she can communicate with the wolves and outraged when the ancient animals demand she lure the murderer to the forest.

How can these creatures ask this of her? How can a thirteen-year-old possibly catch a killer?

Bewildered by her role in this new magical world, and by the wolves’ extraordinary request, Eileen must battle her sorrow and find courage as she begins the most dangerous and incredible adventure of her life.

Book Review: The Empire’s Ghost

empghostThe Empire’s Ghost
Isabelle Steiger
High/Epic Fantasy
419 pages
Published 2017

So I’ve had pretty good luck with debut novels, overall. (The Golem and the Jinni, The Crown’s Game, and The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic come to mind.) This one was good – not what I’d called spectacular, like those three, but good. If the sequel was out now, I’d read it. Knowing my reading habits, I probably won’t, because by the time the sequel does come out, I’ll have forgotten too much of this first book. (I strongly dislike only reading the first book in a series and then having to wait.)

What I really liked was how the author painted every character. Even the would-be Emperor, who is probably the closest to evil any character is in this book, was interesting and had clear motivations that made sense. I wouldn’t even call him evil, just ambitious. His assassin shows a different side in part of the book that also removes him from the “evil” category. I’m impressed that Steiger manager to set up several factions at odds with each other without making any of them evil. Wrong, perhaps, misguided perhaps, but not evil. Which is unusual in high fantasy.

What I disliked was there was a point in the middle where I had to set aside the book for real life – and I almost never picked it up again. Three days later, I finally did, but to me, that means I wasn’t invested in the characters or the story. I could have moved on to a different book, and I almost did. I liked most of the characters – but without liking any of them enough to truly care what happened. I also wish the pacing was a little faster, but that’s a victim of too many viewpoints, I think.

So I could go either way on this book. It was well-written but a little slow and didn’t just GRAB me the way some books do.

From the cover of The Empire’s Ghost:

The empire of Elesthene once spanned a continent, but its rise heralded the death of magic. It tore itself apart from within, leaving behind a patchwork of kingdoms struggling to rebuild. 

But when a new dictator, the ambitious and enigmatic Imperator Elgar, seizes power in the old capital and seeks to re-create the lost empire anew, the other kingdoms have little hope of stopping him. Prince Kelken of Reglay finds himself at odds with his father at his country’s darkest hour; the marquise of Esthrades is unmatched in politics and strategy, but she sits at a staggering military disadvantage. And Issamira, the most powerful of the free countries, has shut itself off from the conflict, thrown into confusion by the disappearance of its crown prince and the ensuing struggle for succession.

Everything seems aligned in Elgar’s favor, but when he presses a band of insignificant but skilled alley-dwellers into his service for a mission of the greatest secrecy, they find an unexpected opportunity to alter the balance of power in the war. Through their actions and those of the remaining royals, they may uncover not just a way to defeat Elgar, but also a deeper truth about their world’s lost history.

Set in a fantastical world that is both welcomingly familiar and excitingly unique, The Empire’s Ghost shows nobles and commoners alike struggling to survive and maintain power in an ever-changing, chaotic world.

Book Review: Red Winter Trilogy

RW1Red Winter
Dark Tempest
Immortal Fire
Annette Marie
Fantasy
About 350 pages each
Published 2016, 2017, 2017

So I didn’t actually realize this series was written by a Canadian author until the end of the first book, when I skimmed the “about the author” section! I picked up the first book on a whim – the entire trilogy is free on Kindle Unlimited – and I am so, SO GLAD I DID. This trilogy is amazing. It’s a little anime-like – the illustrations are definitely drawn in anime style and there’s about ten per book – but it’s simply beautiful writing, blending elements of Japanese mythology with a beautifully sweet romance and an epic fantasy task. (Release trapped gods and goddesses and stop a goddess.) The main character was likeable, sweet, and a little naive, but she realizes why she is naive and consciously works to overcome that.

The first book starts with a revelation – Emi has been training for ten years to receive her goddess into her body, with the expectation that their personalities will meld – only to discover that the goddess’s divine energy will instead destroy Emi’s mind and personality. She will be dead while the goddess inhabits her body. Which will be happening two months from the book’s beginning, so she doesn’t have much time to change her fate. The goddess herself is not unsympathetic, and wishes it could be different. I loved the interaction between Emi and her goddess. The compassion, love, and regret shown by Amaterasu means it’s impossible to dislike her, even though we know she’ll be the agent of our protagonist’s death.

RW3But all is not as it seems among the gods, and Emi is attacked by someone who should be an ally, and defended by those who should want her dead. Conspiracies unravel in the second book, as Emi and her friends race to finish the task set them by Amaterasu – a task that must be finished before the winter solstice, when Amaterasu will descend into Emi’s body and destroy her mind. Dark Tempest ends with the task still uncompleted, and Immortal Fire picks up immediately. (I read almost the entire trilogy in one sitting – I finally set the third book aside and got some sleep before the final confrontation.)

RW2I don’t want to say too much, and I’m only going to include the description on the first book, because I don’t want to spoil anything. I liked Emi, I absolutely loved Yumei, the dark, standoffish Crow Lord, and Shiro the kitsune was an amazing character. Reveals and pacing and dialogue and action and exposition were all excellently done. This is a gorgeous, absorbing trilogy and I highly recommend it.

 

From the back of Red Winter:

In a few short months, Emi’s mortal life will end when she becomes the human host of an immortal goddess. Carefully hidden from those who would destroy her, she has prepared her mind, body, and soul to unite with the goddess–and not once has she doubted her chosen fate.

Shiro is a spirit of the earth and an enemy of the goddess Emi will soon host. Mystery shrouds his every move and his ruby eyes shine with cunning she can’t match and dares not trust. But she saved his life, and until his debt is paid, he is hers to command–whether she wants him or not.

On the day they meet, everything Emi believes comes undone, swept away like snow upon the winter wind. For the first time, she wants to change her fate–but how can she erase a destiny already wrought in stone? Against the power of the gods, Shiro is her only hope … and hope is all she has left.

 

About the author:

Annette Marie is the author of the Amazon best-selling YA urban fantasy series Steel & Stone, which includes the 2015 Goodreads Choice Award nominee Yield the Night. Her first love is fantasy, a limitless realm of creativity where she can break all the boring rules of real life, but fast-paced urban fantasy, bold heroines, and tantalizing forbidden romances are her guilty pleasures. She proudly admits she has a thing for dragons, and her editor has politely inquired as to whether she intends to include them in every single book.

Annette lives in the frozen winter wasteland of northern Alberta, Canada (okay, it’s not quite that bad). She shares her life with her remarkably patient, comparatively sensible husband and their furry minion of darkness — sorry, cat — Caesar. When not writing, she can be found elbow-deep in one art project or another while blissfully ignoring all adult responsibilities.

To find out more about Annette and her books, visit her website at www.authorannettemarie.com.

Book Review: Never Never

neverNever Never
Brianna R. Shrum
Fairy-tale Retelling (Fantasy)
356 pages
Published 2015

Where do I start with this one? I had ups and downs with this book. It’s a retelling of Peter Pan, from Captain Hook’s viewpoint. And it reveals that James Hook was actually a boy taken to Neverland who thought it was going to be temporary, but then Pan refused to take him home.

I LOVE that it showed Hook as a sympathetic character. And in my interpretation, Hook is still that lonely 13-year-old boy that Pan stole, artificially aged through the tricks of Neverland. Being a 13-year-old boy explains the hysterical fear of the crocodile, and the blind rages at Pan. He’s still a child, without the emotional maturity of a man, and that explains a lot of his actions in the original Disney movie. (Which is incorporated in the last part of the book.)

I was disappointed in the ending of the book. Not in the writing – the writing was fantastic – but in the actual events. I wanted a different ending. (I’m trying not to spoil too much!)

And Hook’s romance – well. It was unexpected, but it made sense, and I enjoyed it. For a while it was the only pure thing he had, but even that was spoiled by Pan. Hook really just couldn’t catch a break.

It’ll be interesting to see how this compares to the other Hook retellings out there, which I’m planning to read as well – Peter Pan is one of my husband’s favorite fairy tales, and I love seeing fairy tales from the villain’s point of view.

To sum up: A solid retelling from Captain’s Hook point of view – the ending was not quite what I wanted, but villain’s stories almost never end happily for the villain, I suppose. Definitely worth the read.

From the cover of Never Never:

James Hook is a child who only wants to grow up.

When he meets Peter Pan, a boy who loves to pretend and is intent on never becoming a man – James decides he could try being a child – at least briefly. James joins Peter Pan on a holiday to Neverland, a place of adventure created by children’s dreams, but Neverland is not for the faint of heart. Soon James finds himself longing for home, determined that he is destined to become a man. But Peter refuses to take him back, leaving James trapped in a world just beyond the one he loves. A world where children are to never grow up.

But grow up he does.

And thus begins the epic adventure of a Lost Boy and a Pirate.

This story isn’t about Peter Pan; it’s about the boy whose life he stole. It’s about a man in a world that hates men. It’s about the feared Captain James Hook and his passionate quest to kill the Pan, an impossible feat in a magical land where everyone loves Peter Pan.

Except one.

Book Review: The Crown’s Fate

crown's fateThe Crown’s Fate
Evelyn Skye
Historical Fantasy
417 pages
Published 2017

The Crown’s Fate is a sequel to the amazing debut novel, The Crown’s Game. The first book left me crying and a little traumatized, it was so elegant and heart-breaking. The second has proven to be a worthy successor, and healed most of the hurts caused by the first.

The two books tell the story of two enchanters in Tsarist Russia competing to become Imperial Enchanter. The competition, unfortunately, must end in the death of one of them, so Russia’s magic can be solely controlled by the Imperial Enchanter, and therefore be stronger for defending the realm. It only complicates things that one of the competitors is the heir to the throne’s best friend. And what happens when the two competitors fall in love?

Along the way, we see creative enchantments, volcano nymphs, elegant masquerade balls, battles for succession, and a quick glimpse of Baba Yaga’s house. (Oh, how I want to learn more about that!)

These two books are really amazing, but make sure you have the second on hand before you finish the first! I read the first when it was published, last year, and had to wait a year before being able to read the second! (I’m actually surprised I didn’t post a review of it.) I don’t know if Vika and Nikolai’s story will be continued past these two books, but there is room in the world Skye has created for more stories, even if it doesn’t focus on the two enchanters. Especially now that magic beyond the control of the Imperial Enchanter is stirring in the land once again…

I’m not going to include the plot description from the book cover this time, because it contains MASSIVE spoilers for the first book. I will instead post the plot description for the FIRST book.

From the cover of The Crown’s Game:

Perfect for fans of Shadow and Bone and Red Queen, The Crown’s Game is a thrilling and atmospheric historical fantasy set in Imperial Russia about two teenagers who must compete for the right to become the Imperial Enchanter—or die in the process—from debut author Evelyn Skye.

Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know.  The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love . . . or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear . . . the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.