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 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.

Book Review: Nightshifted by Cassie Alexander

nightshiftedNightshifted
by Cassie Alexander
341 pages
Published 2012
Urban Fantasy

Nightshifted in most ways is your typical urban fantasy book. It’s got the hidden supernatural world that most mortals don’t know about, with one mortal drawn in who must flounder her way around among vampires, shapeshifters, weres, zombies, and more. This one has a bit of an interesting twist to it, however. In most urban fantasy books, there’s some sort of hidden hospital, usually with a supernatural that was a doctor before they were turned to whatever flavor of supernatural they now are. In Nightshifted, that hidden hospital is Y4. Y4 is the bottom, hidden level of County Hospital. Here regular, mortal nurses take care of supernatural patients. One of those nurses is Edie Spence. She was offered the job by a mysterious, shadowy man, that told her if she took it, they’d make sure her junkie brother got clean, and stayed clean. Now she has a name badge that glows when something funky is going on, patients that sometimes require a tranq rifle, and a whole heap of troubles.

In Nightshifted, the first in the series, Edie accidentally leaves one arm of a patient unrestrained. In his delirium, he yanks out a vital tube and dies. The last thing he’d told her was “Save Anna.” Not knowing whether she’s under a Compulsion or doing it of her own free will, Edie sets out to find the mysterious Anna. She does eventually find her and kills one of the vampires holding her before they escape. The vampires decide she’s going to pay for that, and haul her in to a trial to decide her guilt and sentence. But Anna is more than she seems, and bringing Edie to trial may be more trouble than it’s worth…

The next book in the series is Moonshifted, followed by Shapeshifted, and, in December, Deadshifted. Due to the unique viewpoint of these books, I’ll definitely be looking for them.

There’s a tiny romance sub-plot, but it’s very much a SUB-plot and is secondary to the action in every way. Why don’t we get kick-ass, self-sufficient heroines in romance novels?

From the back of Nightshifted:

Nursing school prepared Edie Spence for a lot of things. Burn victims? No problem. Severed limbs? Piece of cake. Vampires? No way in hell. But as the newest nurse on Y4, the secret ward hidden in the bowels of County Hospital, Edie has her hands full with every paranormal patient you can imagine – from vamps and were-things to zombies and beyond…

Edie’s just trying to learn the ropes so she can get through her latest shift unscathed. But when a vampire servant turns to dust under her watch, all hell breaks loose. Now she’s haunted by the man’s dying word – Save Anna – and before she knows it, she’s on a mission to rescue some poor girl from the undead. Which involves crashing a vampire den, falling for a zombie, and fighting for her soul. Grey’s Anatomy was never like this….

Book Review: Hellbent by Cherie Priest

hellbentHellbent
by Cherie Priest
338 pages
Urban Fantasy

I picked up Hellbent for one sentence on the back cover. “Her Seattle home is already overrun by a band of misfits, including Ian Stott, a blind vampire, and Adrian deJesus, an ex-Navy SEAL/drag queen.” I mean, doesn’t that sound like fun to you? Hellbent is actually the second book in a series about Raylene Pendle, a vampire thief; Bloodshot being the first. I’ve not read Bloodshot, but I didn’t need to to follow the action in Hellbent.

Raylene is contracted to recover a box of bacula – penis bones. (Snicker.) Not just any penis bones, but penis bones of various supernatural species. Lycanthropes, Basilisk, Sasquatch, to name a few. Supernatural bacula have a lot of magical punch, and will sell for a few million dollars apiece in Raylene’s world. Along the way to recovering the bacula, Raylene also has to keep her blind vampire friend from getting dusted by his old House, and solve the mystery of his sire’s murder.

It’s a fun read, and Raylene is a sarcastic, intelligent protagonist. There’s an undercurrent of romance between Raylene and Ian, AND Raylene and Adrian, but it’s never overt or a main part of the plot. From a drag show to penis jokes to outrunning a tornado, Raylene the vampire thief sails through her problems, collecting stray people to her as she does so. I admit I would have liked to see more ass-kicking; there was only one real action scene in the book, and it was very short. I was also a little surprised at how quickly an enemy turned into a friend, that seemed a little sudden. Overall, a fun, light-hearted vampire romp that doesn’t get bogged down by too much romance or politicking.

From the back of Hellbent:

Vampire thief Raylene Pendle doesn’t need more complications in her life. Her Seattle home is already overrun by a band of misfits, including Ian Stott, a blind vampire, and Adrian deJesus, an ex-Navy SEAL/drag queen. But Raylene still can’t resist an old pal’s request: seek out and steal a bizarre set of artifacts. Also on the hunt is a brilliant but certifiably crazy sorceress determined to stomp anyone who gets in her way. But Raylene’s biggest problem is that the death of Ian’s vaunted patriarch appears to have made him the next target of some blood-sucking sociopaths.  Now Raylene must snatch up the potent relics, solve a murder, and keep Ian safe—all while fending off a psychotic sorceress. But at least she won’t be alone. A girl could do a lot worse for a partner than an ass-kicking drag queen—right?