Book Review: Black Heart Loa

BlackheartloaBlack Heart Loa
by Adrian Phoenix
Published 2011
416 pages
Urban Fantasy

This was on my library’s “used books for sale” shelf, on the Christmas sale of 2 books for $1. The premise looked interesting – haven’t seen hoodoo-centered urban fantasy before! So I searched around to find a second book (The Elfish Gene) and bought them both. And I’m glad I did, even if I haven’t read The Elfish Gene yet! Black Heart Loa is actually the second in Phoenix’s Hoodoo series, the first being Black Dust Mambo. Even without reading the first one, Black Heart Loa is easy to follow, and the events of Black Dust Mambo are easily understood, without really having them rehashed to the reader. Part of that, I expect, is because Black Heart Loa is dealing with the fallout of the events of Black Dust Mambo, so things get explained in a natural progression in the book.

BHL was a rolicking fun ride through the swamps of Louisiana. I can’t speak for the accuracy of how the hoodoo belief system is represented, but most religious beliefs in urban fantasy get a vigorous twisting from the author, as miracles and magic become real in the fictional world. So I’m not terribly worried about the accuracy, as long as they’re not portrayed solely in a good or bad light. And in BHL there are both good and bad practitioners of hoodoo, illustrating the point that it’s not the religion that is inherently good or bad, but the person practicing it. So that moral quandary aside, I really, REALLY enjoyed this book. Kallie is a fun, ass-kicking, smart-talking protagonist, though I found myself wanting to know more about her best friend, a mambo-in-training.

I especially want to know more about a character who was introduced late in the book, but the ending of the book implies more books to come, and more focus on the character I’m intrigued by, so I’ll have to see if I can dig up more of this series. Amazon says this book is 2 of 2 in the series, so hopefully the author is still going to write more!

From the back of Black Heart Loa:

“An eye for an eye is never enough.”

Kallie Riviere, a Cajun hoodoo apprentice with a bent for trouble, learned the meaning of those ominous words when hoodoo bogeyman Doctor Heron targeted her family for revenge. Now, while searching for her still-missing bayou pirate cousin, Kallie finds out the hard way that someone is undoing powerful gris gris, which means that working magic has become as unpredictable as rolling a handful of dice. The wards woven to protect the Gulf coast are unraveling, leaving New Orleans and the surrounding bayous vulnerable just as an unnatural storm – the deadliest in a century – is born. As the hurricane powers toward the heart of all she loves, Kallie desperately searches for the cause of the disturbing randomness, only to learn a deeply unsettling truth: the culprit may be herself. To protect her family and friends, including the sexy nomad Layne Vallin, Kallie steps into the jaws of danger . . . and finds a loup garou designed to steal her heart – literally.

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: Wicked and Son of a Witch

 

wickedWicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire
416 pages
Published 1995
Fantasy

Son of a Witch
by Gregory Maguire
337 pages
Published 2005
Fantasy

I saw the musical version of Wicked two or three years ago, and ADORED it. I’d been wanting to pick up this book for sometime, and finally found both it and the sequel at my local library. (I just learned there are two more books, A Lion Among Men and Out of Oz, so I’ll be requesting those from the library soon!) I started the book knowing, from other reviewers, that it was very different from the musical. Unlike most of the reviews I read, that didn’t make me not like it. Quite the contrary. I loved seeing the politics and social unrest hidden behind the scenes. The musical hints at the pogroms against Animals (the sentient ones) but doesn’t go into the Whys and Hows like the book does. Wicked and its sequel are much grittier, much darker. At times they feel like political commentary. I loved them.

Wicked is the story of Elphaba, Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West. Her story tells us about her birth, her childhood, her school years, and how she eventually came to be the Wicked Witch of the West. Throughout the course of the book we meet Glinda, the Good Witch (and Elphaba’s college roommate), the Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys, and the Wizard of Oz. The Wicked Witch, unsurprisingly, is not as evil as she’s painted to be. Her sister, though…I might not call her wicked, but dictatorial? Yes. Wicked also introduces Liir, Elphaba’s son. His story is the sequel, Son of a Witch.

sonofawitchIn Son of a Witch, we watch Liir try to decide who he is and what he wants to do with his life. Is he really Elphaba’s son? What does that mean for his future? Should he take up her mantle and her responsibilities? So many people seem to think it’s his duty to do so, but he’s not Elphaba. She never confided her dreams and goals to him, so he doesn’t even really know what those duties are, much less if he wants to take them up. Son of a Witch is really the story of an identity crisis, but it’s an identity crisis with the added pressure of entire tribes and races of peoples looking to Liir for help, or guidance, or simply answers that he does not have.

I very much enjoyed both books, and I’m excited to find out there are two more in the series. I definitely had some unanswered questions at the end of Son of a Witch, and was disappointed when I thought that was the end. I also plan to look up the author’s other, similar books – Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (Cinderella), Mirror Mirror (Snow White), and many others not based on fairy tales. Or recognizable fairy tales, anyway.

Reading these two books has also made me want to re-read the Oz series – I read most of them years ago in middle school, but I think I may try to grab them from the library again. Oz is such an interesting world, and re-reading them after reading The Wicked Years might shine a whole new light on them.

From the back of Wicked:

When Dorothy triumphed over the Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum’s classic tale, we heard only her side of the story. But what about her arch-nemesis, the mysterious Witch? Where did she come from? How did she become so wicked? And what is the true nature of evil?

Gregory Maguire creates a fantasy world so rich and vivid that we will never look at Oz the same way again. Wicked is about a land where animals talk and strive to be treated like first-class citizens, Munchkinlanders seek the comfort of middle-class stability, and the Tin Man becomes a victim of domestic violence. And then there is the little green-skinned girl named Elphaba, who will grow up to become the infamous Wicked Witch of the West, a smart, prickly, and misunderstood creature who challenges all our preconceived notions about the nature of good and evil.

From the back of Son of a Witch:

Ten years after the publication of Wicked, beloved novelist Gregory Maguire returns at last to the land of Oz. There he introduces us to Liir, an adolescent boy last seen hiding in the shadows of the castle after Dorothy did in the Witch. Bruised, comatose, and left for dead in a gully, Liir is shattered in spirit as well as in form. But he is tended at the Cloister of Saint Glinda by the silent novice called Candle, who wills him back to life with her musical gifts.

What dark force left Liir in this condition? Is he really Elphaba’s son? He has her broom and her cape – but what of her powers? Can he find his supposed half-sister, Nor, last seen in the forbidding prison, Southstairs? Can he fulfill the last wishes of a dying princess? In an Oz that, since the Wizard’s departure, is under new and dangerous management, can Liir keep his head down long enough to grow up?

The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch

hangman's daughter

The Hangman’s Daughter
by Oliver Pötzsch
435 pages
Published 2010
Historical Fiction

I spent my entire day at the Maryland Renaissance Festival yesterday. (And man, do my feet hurt!) But it was an absolute blast; we watched the three sirens of “Sirena” sing some haunting melodies (and “steal” my husband’s soul and eat it as part of their act!), watched a couple of hilarious comedy shows (Fight School slayed me) and watched the final round of jousting. Did you know jousting is Maryland’s official sport? How cool is that?

On the way to the fair I finished The Hangman’s Daughter. The Hangman’s Daughter was originally written in German by Oliver Pötzsch, but my version was translated to English by Lee Chadeayne. I didn’t realize until I read the “About the Author” followed by “About the Translator” that it wasn’t written originally in English! It flowed exceptionally well. The story revolves around the mysterious deaths of three children, the midwife the town wants to pin it on, and a mystery surrounding the sabotage of the leper house being built just outside the walls of the town. The Hangman is actually one of the most sympathetic characters in the story, which I found unique. Usually the executioner/torturer is painted as evil. Along with his daughter and the town doctor’s son, an accomplished doctor himself, they attempt to solve the mystery of who’s killing children before the town can convict and sentence the midwife.

There are three more books in this series, The Dark MonkThe Beggar King, and The Poisoned Pilgrim. Definitely going to look for those!

(Edit: I have since read the aforementioned sequels, and reviewed them here. They were excellent!)

I REALLY enjoyed this book, and I will probably try to track down other English translations of this author’s work. I don’t read too many mysteries (though I do have a few more in the queue at the moment) but this book really swept me up and carried me along for the ride. It’s set in 17th century Bavaria, 70 years after the last witch craze. Jakob Kuisl is the town’s Hangman, and, as it turns out, one of the author’s ancestors! The author apparently wrote the novel as a way of connecting with his roots; he is descended from the Kuisls, who were Hangmen for generations.

I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling the mystery, so I’ll go straight to the back of the book.

From the back of The Hangman’s Daughter:

Simon turned the boy on his belly. With a vigorous tug he ripped open the shirt on the back as well. A groan went through the crowd.

Beneath one shoulder blade there was a palm-size sign of a kind that Simon had never seen before – a washed-out purple circle with a cross protruding from the bottom.

For a moment, there was total silence on the pier. Then the first screams rose. “Witchcraft! There’s witchcraft involved!” Somebody bawled: “The witches have come back to Schongau! They’re getting our kids!”