Book Review: Whispers Underground

whispersWhispers Underground
by Ben Aaronovitch
303 pages
Published 2012
Urban Fantasy

I picked up Whispers Underground mainly because of one paragraph on the back: “…the FBI has sent over a crack agent to help. She’s young, ambitious, beautiful . . . and a born-again Christian apt to view any magic as the work of the devil. Oh yeah – that’s going to go well.” expecting, well, just what that implied. Yay, a fiery woman who keeps contradicting the main character about things she doesn’t understand! Philosophical discussions! Sparks! ….I did not get any of that. Reynolds was not the main character’s temporary partner, as was implied. She had a bit part in the book. Her religion wasn’t even MENTIONED until very very near the end, and it was just an offhand “she went to go have Christmas dinner with her evangelical family” or something like that. She never dug her heels in and contradicted him. She accepted the idea of supernaturals pretty easily, honestly, and just said she couldn’t put it in her FBI report because she didn’t want a psych eval. WHERE IS MY CONFLICT?

I also did not realize at first that this wasn’t a one-off book or the first in the series – the only indication of that is that it mentions on the front cover that the author was also the author of Midnight Riot and Moon Over Soho. (And on the inside front cover, it turns out.) But there’s nothing about “a Rivers of London story” (incidentally, I had to get the name of the series from the Amazon page, it’s certainly not on the book anywhere!) or “Don’t miss the other books in the series” or anything like that. Realizing it’s the third book answered some of my other questions, like Why doesn’t the author say Toby is a freaking DOG until like the fifth time his name is mentioned? I spent most of the book wondering if Molly is a ghost or what the hell she is, and that was never explained. Peter’s actual partner had some accident happen to her face, and that’s mentioned briefly – that there was an accident – but it’s never explained. There’s very little magic in the books, all the non-humans look surprisingly human, and the “gruesome murder” described on the back of the cover is a pretty run-of-the-mill stabbing. Overall, disappointing.

The book attempts to be urban fantasy in the style of Dresden, but fails miserably, in my opinion. For only being 300 pages it DRAAAAAGGED on. Final verdict – don’t waste your time, not interested in the other books.

From the back of Whispers Underground:

It begins with a dead body at the far end of Baker Street tube station, all that remains of American exchange student James Gallagher – and the victim’s wealthy, politically powerful family is understandably eager to get to the bottom of the gruesome murder. The trouble is, the bottom – if it exists at all – is deeper and more unnatural than anyone suspects . . . except, that is, for London constable and sorcerer’s apprentice Peter Grant. With Inspector Nightingale, the last registered wizard in England, tied up in the hunt for the rogue magician known as “the Faceless Man,” it’s up to Peter to plumb the haunted depths of the oldest, largest, and – as of now – deadliest subway system in the world.

At least he won’t be alone. No, the FBI has sent over a crack agent to help. She’s young, ambitious, beautiful . . . and a born-again Christian apt to view any magic as the work of the devil. Oh yeah – that’s going to go well. 

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Book Review: The Iron Druid Chronicles

houndedHounded, Hexed, and Hammered
by Kevin Hearne
Published 2011
~300 pages each
Urban Fantasy

So when my husband first saw these at the library, he laughed and handed one to me, saying they “looked like trash” but “might be fun anyway.” Having read them, yes, they’re light reads, but SO MUCH FUN. They’re very reminiscient of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files; Atticus is a total BAD ASS, is the last Druid, and is a total lady’s man to boot. (I mean, look at those covers, he’s a cute-as-hell Irish dude.)

Atticus may be a special snowflake (he’s 21 centuries old, and the last living Druid, so the Tuatha de Danann take an inordinate interest in his life) but he’s hilarious. It’s especially interesting to see how his morals (he freely admits they’re based in an Iron Age mentality) conflict with the morals of modern humanity, and with the morals of his gods.

Atticus has collected a crazy menagerie of friends and allies – his lawyers, a vampire and a werewolf, come from a firm run by werewolves. His vampire lawyer has a group of ghouls on speed-dial for easy disposal of bodies. Being a druid, he’s befriended a couple of elementals that help protect his house and himself. His wolfhound is unusually intelligent, with a wicked sense of humor, due to Atticus’ meddling.

These are only the first three in the series; the library had 1, 2, 3, and 5 on their shelves, but I’m waiting to read #5 until I get my hands on #4. (I’ve got a hold request on it.) #6 is on order at the library, and #7 is due out this summer. If you liked The Dresden Files, you’ll probably like these. (Also, if you like reading about sexy Irish dudes kicking ass.)

hexedThere was one scene that bothered me. I can’t remember whether it was in Hexed or Hammered (they blend together a bit) but at one point Atticus and the Morrigan raise some sex magic to repair Atticus’ missing ear. (He got a bit banged up in an earlier fight.) And the sex scene, while not explicit (god knows I don’t have a problem with explicit sex scenes!) was a bit…rapey. As in, the Morrigan quite literally magicked him into it, and by his own admission he felt pressured (how do you say no to your own goddess?) and it was NOT pleasurable in the least. So….yeah. He’s grateful to her for fixing his ear, but the entire scene made me really uncomfortable. It did make me think about gods having sex with mortals, though – there are many, many stories about Zeus taking any woman he pleased, whether she was willing or no. Even if one is “willing” – if a god asks you to have sex, how exactly can one say no? I guess it made me think about how there are laws against teachers and other authority figures taking advantage of those they have authority over. If a teacher-student relationship is rape, no matter how consensual, then how can a god-mortal relationship be anything else?

A review I read of the books mentioned they’re very sexist – in the reviewer’s opinion, all the female characters fall in to one of three roles – harmless sex object, laughably dangerous sex object, and unhinged psychotic actually dangerous sex object. While I can see where they were coming from, the books are told from Atticus’ point of view, and he is, self-admittedly, a ladies’ man and operating on Iron Age morality. So where does a book cross from portraying a sexist character to actually -being- sexist? I’m not sure. At about book three, Atticus does get a strong female apprentice. And while he is attracted to her, she’s definitely portrayed as having a mind of her own. (The reviewer also ignored the Widow who Atticus has a close friendship with – she’s not a sex object in the least.)

There are definitely problematic bits in these books, but if you’re willing to look past those, they are a rip-roaring good time. Just – enjoy with caution.

From Hounded:

Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbors and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old—when in actuality, he’s twenty-one centuries old. Not to mention: He draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer.

Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he’s hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down, and Atticus will need all his power—plus the help of a seductive goddess of death, his vampire and werewolf team of attorneys, a sexy bartender possessed by a Hindu witch, and some good old-fashioned luck of the Irish—to kick some Celtic arse and deliver himself from evil.

hammeredFrom Hexed:

Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, doesn’t care much for witches. Still, he’s about to make nice with the local coven by signing a mutually beneficial nonaggression treaty—when suddenly the witch population in modern-day Tempe, Arizona, quadruples overnight. And the new girls are not just bad, they’re badasses with a dark history on the German side of World War II.

With a fallen angel feasting on local high school students, a horde of Bacchants blowing in from Vegas with their special brand of deadly decadence, and a dangerously sexy Celtic goddess of fire vying for his attention, Atticus is having trouble scheduling the witch hunt. But aided by his magical sword, his neighbor’s rocket-propelled grenade launcher, and his vampire attorney, Atticus is ready to sweep the town and show the witchy women they picked the wrong Druid to hex.

From Hammered:

Thor, the Norse god of thunder, is worse than a blowhard and a bully—he’s ruined countless lives and killed scores of innocents. After centuries, Viking vampire Leif Helgarson is ready to get his vengeance, and he’s asked his friend Atticus O’Sullivan, the last of the Druids, to help take down this Norse nightmare.

One survival strategy has worked for Atticus for more than two thousand years: stay away from the guy with the lightning bolts. But things are heating up in Atticus’s home base of Tempe, Arizona. There’s a vampire turf war brewing, and Russian demon hunters who call themselves the Hammers of God are running rampant. Despite multiple warnings and portents of dire consequences, Atticus and Leif journey to the Norse plain of Asgard, where they team up with a werewolf, a sorcerer, and an army of frost giants for an epic showdown against vicious Valkyries, angry gods, and the hammer-wielding Thunder Thug himself.

Fated/Cursed by Benedict Jacka

fatedFated
by Benedict Jacka
278 pages
Published 2012

Cursed
by Benedict Jacka
277 pages
Published 2012

Fated and Cursed are the first two novels in Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus series. Taken and Chosen are the next two, and I will DEFINITELY be getting my hands on those! I’m a big fan of the urban fantasy genre when done right, and Jacka does not disappoint. The books are very reminiscient of Jim Butcher‘s Harry Dresden novels, and even include a shout out within the first few pages that made me giggle. Unlike Dresden’s wizardry, Alex Verus is not a flashy mage. He can’t throw fireballs, he can’t shield himself, he can’t teleport. What he CAN do is see the future. All possible futures. He can flip through them in a matter of moments to find the one that ends with the result he wants. (Usually, his survival.) Constantly underestimated by the elemental mages, battle-mages, and other flashier mages around him, Alex continues to prove that, with proper ingenuity, his power can do a great number of unexpected things.

cursedAccompanied by his cursed Apprentice, Luna, and a friendly air elemental named Starbreeze, Alex gets into, and out of, some pretty hairy situations. Since he hasn’t sworn allegiance to either the light mages or the dark mages, he’s considered a rogue. In the first book, Fated, both sides use him to get to a powerful, ancient artifact locked behind multiple wards and booby traps. In the second, Cursed, Alex has to save a dear friend from being killed by a ritual used to drain magical beings of their magic.

These are both quick reads – I read them in one day while riding the bus to and from a job interview, and afterwards curled up in bed fighting off a migraine. The adventure is fast-paced and a lot of fun. If you’ve read and enjoyed The Dresden Files or Kim Harrison’s The Hollows series, I’d highly recommend you read these.

From the back of Fated:

Alex is part of a world hidden in plain sight. He runs a magic shop in London that caters to a clientele that can do much more than pull rabbits out of hats. And while Alex’s own powers aren’t as showy as some mages’ he does have the advantage of foreseeing the possible future – allowing him to pull off operations that have a million-to-one chance of success.

But when Alex is approached by multiple factions seeking his skills to crack open a relic from a long-ago mage war, he knows that whatever’s inside must be beyond powerful. And thanks to his abilities, Alex can predict that by taking the job, his odds of survival are about to go from slim to none…

From the back of Cursed:

Alex WAS a little-known magic-shop proprietor in London. But thanks to his second sight, he’s suddenly infamous for defeating powerful Dark mages. Now he’s keeping his head down, training his apprentice, and trying to prevent cursed artifacts from falling into the hands of novices – until he unearths the resurgence of a forbidden ritual. Someone is harvesting the life force of magical creatures – destroying them in the process. And draining humans is next on their agenda.

Hired to investigate, Alex discovers that not everyone on the Council wants him delving any deeper. Struggling to distinguish ally from enemy, he finds himself the target of those who would risk their own sanity for power. Alex still has the advantage of seeing the future – but he might not have a future for much longer.