The Hanging Tree

The Hanging Tree is like a gentle, rolling hillside. It’s a pleasant walk in the summer with a little bit of exertion towards the end, but nothing you can’t handle before settling down for a nice pint and a pie.

The Hanging Tree (Rivers of London 6) I’ve read a number of different urban fantasy series.  Jim Butcher’s Dresden stuff, Mike Carey’s Felix Castor books and Simon Green’s Nightside stories among them.  Along with Aaronovitch‘s Rivers of London, they all have some stuff in common; a male protagonist with some supernatural ability who is investigating crimes or tracking down people or spirits.  In the case of Dresden and John Taylor (Nightside), they’re private investigators, Felix Castor is a freelance exorcist, and in Ben’s books, we have Peter Grant, a police officer and practitioner (wizard).  In all four series, there’s some crime or incident to resolve against the backdrop of a deeper and darker mystery which deepens further as more books are released.  It’s a common format and it risks getting a little bit tiring.

However, despite the similarities the books all have very different flavours.  Jim Butcher writes loud roller-coasters with explosive conclusions and long lasting impacts.  Mike Carey’s books are a bleak look at human nature and how we live, or don’t live, with our actions.  Simon Green writes weird fantastical stories in weird places with weird outcomes and big characters.

Ben Aaronovitch it would seem, writes very British urban fantasy.  It’s all very polite and erudite and intensely focussed on not making a fuss.

The Hanging Tree is the sixth instalment in the Rivers of London series (not counting the graphic novels), and it’s a very fine read indeed.  Don’t take my comment about it being polite as a negative, it’s just a very different feel to the rest of the urban fantasy market.  The police element of the story is as strong as ever here and I love it.  One of my major objections to a lot of police serial stuff is the lack of banal activity, actual policing and the proper consequences of actions.  In The Hanging Tree, we get a clear view of how the police handle real crimes and situations, and although they’re clearly exaggerated in order to handle Falcon Incidents (i.e. weird magical shit) it feels real, grounded and truly interesting.  Peter and his colleagues fill in reports and do interviews, they follow suspects and only actually arrest them if they have some decent evidence.  There’s very little shoot first and deal with the fallout, and a lot of risk reviews and tactical planning.  It’s not mired in detail, and so it’s not boring, but it is present and it makes the world feel so much more real.

Ben’s descriptions of London, architecture and history fascinate me throughout the books, and make the location a character in its own right.  The source of the name of the series (pun intended), the rivers of London, are enticing and interesting and provide a real foil for the rest of the characters and stories.  The other characters are well developed where necessary, as well as interesting and engaging.  They’re also, it seems to me, representative of the feminist, multi-cultural, multi-sexual nature of London.  I’m not the right person to say how well that’s handled, but it’s the first time I’ve read an urban fantasy book where the male protagonist isn’t white and where (in this case) the strong female sidekick is a modern Muslim.

Dialog is witty and sharp, with some laugh out loud moments and some great character interactions.  The plot is pretty light again, however, and really plays second fiddle to the characters and the broader story arc.  As a result, the plot in The Hanging Tree very quickly turns towards the deeper mystery in the series, and doesn’t really carry any interest on its own.  Personally, I didn’t mind because I enjoyed the progression of the main story, but some people might find it a little light, and it’s very much not stand-alone.  You’re going to have to read the previous books to understand this one.

You could argue that The Hanging Tree is too genteel for urban fantasy.  There’s certainly a gruesome death or two, there’s a magical battle, and a flying car, but it’s so very calm.  I think that’s a result of Peter Grant’s narration, and it’s clearly an intentional choice by Ben.  However, if you’re looking for giant explosions and epic magical battles, you’ll need to look elsewhere, because The Hanging Tree is more personal, smaller, and written for TV rather than Hollywood.  I don’t think it suffers for it, but if you’re not expecting it, you’re going to be left feeling slightly flat.

A stand out element for me personally, is that Peter Grant isn’t the most powerful good guy in the story.  He’s not even the best cop.  He’s just a guy, trying his best, surrounded by other good coppers and some very powerful players.  Sure he can hold his own in the fights, but he’s not Harry Dresden, growing increasingly powerful and increasingly hard to beat.  Ben keeps him grounded, surrounded by reality, with enough magical power to deliver surprises, but not so much that the enemies have to become world threatening.

I’ve often described the pace and mood of a book with a simple line graph.  Time along the bottom, excitement or pace on the y-axis.  Many books have lines which look like roller-coaster rides, or castle crenellations, or steep hills rising to a crescendo.  The Hanging Tree line is like a gentle, rolling hillside starting and ending in pretty much the same place.  It’s a pleasant walk in the summer with a little bit of exertion towards the end, but nothing you can’t handle before settling down for a nice pint and a pie.

Ben ensures you care about the characters, you’re interested in the story progression and you want to keep turning the pages.  It’s fascinating, engaging and interesting, but it’s not the kind of book that’ll blow your socks off.

You should buy it and read it though, because it’s the best version of magic in the real world I’ve ever read.  Also, Muslim Ninja.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Ben Aaronovitch
  • Series: Rivers of London (6)
  • Format: Hardback
  • Publisher: Gollancz
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Foxglove Summer

Foxglove Summer (PC Peter Grant 5) I don’t read that much these days, because it’s difficult to find stuff that really grabs my attention.  There are, however, a few exceptions, and the DC Peter Grant books (The Rivers of London series to some) are in that group.  I’ve been looking forward to the paperback release of the 5th book (Foxglove Summer) since it was announced (on account of me being too cheap to buy the hardback), and have been reading it in my lunch break at work since it arrived.

Ben’s style is very easy going, and that makes reading the books very easy as well.  The tone is informal and inviting and I often think, regardless of the content, I could spend hours just reading his prose and enjoy it in the same way you might enjoy a warm bath.

As is common in the kind of urban fantasy I read, Foxglove Summer has a crime to solve, and in the background there’s a long running arc, some impending doom or event that is being foreshadowed.  Painted over those two features are the lives of the characters that inhabit the story.  Unusually, Ben pretty much pushes all of the key characters into the sidelines in this outing, with DC Peter Grant being sent off out of London.  Other than Beverly Brook, the other regulars (Nightingale, Molly, Leslie, et. al) are all pretty much handled at arms length.  Peter is on his own, and while that presents some challenges, it also left me feeling a little bit bereft.

Two girls have gone missing, and what starts out being a routine check on practitioners for Peter, turns into a full-on Falcon event (the Police terminology in the book for ‘weird shit’).

The pace was okay, although as with some of the previous books, I felt again that the ending was quite damp.  This may be because I had to stop only a chapter from the end and then pick it up again, but it all feels quite gentle.  Maybe this is intentional, police work doesn’t finish with the final chase, but rather with all the paperwork afterwards, but it still leaves me feeling deflated.  In combination with the lack of supporting characters, this means I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the fourth in the series which I feel was much stronger.

However, it’s not all bad.  The police procedural elements are as fascinating as ever, the new characters were great, the setting was interesting and the magical elements were worth the effort.  Foxglove Summer is another quite low key story in the magic department after Broken Homes’ must stronger magical element, but as usual it’s blended with the other elements perfectly.

The humour is great, most of it being delivered through DC Grant’s PoV, which is as engaging and witty as ever.  I really could spend hours just reading about DC Grant going about regular police work.

The plot has twists, and the long running story arc is interesting (but you need to have read the others to get it).

Foxglove Summer is an interesting, entertaining read, albeit diminished by the reduced cast.  What the book lacks in tension, it makes up for with humour, wit and intelligence.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Ben Aaronovitch
  • Series: Rivers of London (5)
  • Format: Paperback
  • Publisher: Gollancz
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Written in Red

While I enjoy any book by Anne Bishop, I haven’t been quite this excited about a series since her Black Jewels Universe stories came to an end (sob).

Written in Red (Novel of the Others) While I enjoy any book by Anne Bishop, I haven’t been quite this excited about a series since her Black Jewels Universe stories came to an end (sob).

She has this amazing ability to create a world with characters that are unusual but so very appealing.  If I was explaining to someone what this series was like, I would say the Others are a bit like the Kindred in the Black Jewels but also, so much more.  Neither human nor animal, they are something… Other.  The Terra Indigene (Earth Natives) – Deadly, feral, guardians of the world of Namid. Humans live by their sufferance and largesse, and woe betide them if they trespass on land that does not belong to them.

Simon Wolfgarde is the leader of the Lakeside City Courtyard – a place of the Others to live, work, rest and play.  Human laws do not apply.  Trespass and you may be eaten, and they aren’t kidding.  Meg Corbyn is an enigma to the Others, obviously human, she doesn’t smell like them, but doesn’t smell like ‘prey’ either.  Appearing from nowhere half frozen, and running from something, she applies for the job as Human Liaison between the Courtyard and the human world.  And so begins a very confusing and enlightening time for the residents of Lakeside.

This book is just so full of charm, from Meg herself to the Others and their interactions with her, and with each other about her.  Often hilarious as they try to figure out what to do with this strange short human who is willing to interact with their kind and as she creeps into their hearts, they all crept into mine.

I suppose the closest thing to call the others is shapeshifters, vampires, elementals etc. but those labels do not do them justice.  The creation of the world and the Others place in it is brilliant and without having to use lengthy explanations, Bishop manages to give you a broad view of the way it works.  Humans are not the dominant species even though their nature is such that they don’t believe half of what they hear about the Others and that is always their first mistake.  And there are some horrible humans.  There are also some amazing ones but you come to think of them as part or extension of the courtyard.

There are so many characters to love here, Meg first and foremost.  She is just so loveable and her innocence could have been annoying but it’s not at all.  You just want to look after her.  Simon is a close second and his confusion over dealing with a human female that does not smell like prey is just priceless.  There are quite a few laugh out loud moments where that is concerned.  Tess and her ever changing hair is both scary and awesome.  Sam is just so adorable as a wolf puppy, your heart just goes out to him for everything he’s suffered.

The rest of the cast are numerous and each and every one has a personality that shines – not always in a good way, but in their experience of humans and their distrust, Meg is something entirely new.  Anne Bishop keeps it simple though and you can identify new characters quickly by their surname as to what type of Other they are.  Wolfgarde for wolves, Crowgarde for Crows etc.

The story is fascinating and even the simple details make for enjoyable reading.  Pace wise, it never moves slowly without good cause and makes perfect sense for the plot happening at the time.  When it speeds up though, it really gets going.

Whether the Others will match my fangirl love of the Black Jewels books it remains to be seen, but after one novel, it’s off to a fantastic start!

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Anne Bishop
  • Series: The Others (1)
  • Format: Kindle
  • Publisher: Roc
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Skin Game

Skin Game is an excellent urban fantasy novel, it’s emotional and entertaining, and it really does drive the story of Dresden forward, but is it sustainable?

Skin Game (The Dresden Files, Book 15) Harry Dresden started out life as a Chicago Wizard, listed in the phone book.  Over a significant number of books, Harry has grown in power, both in terms of the enemies and allies he gathers around himself and also in terms of his own access to powerful abilities.  While at first, Harry’s actions were centred around his clients and his friends, over time they have become world threatening, and involved the mightiest of beings in the universe, in many cases, literally.  That is starting to present Jim Butcher with a problem, and it’s starting to show.

There’s no great mystery to a basic urban fantasy novel.  Give your protagonist something they have to fix, the risk of success and failure being emotionally significant.  Then, over a number of acts, make their attempts backfire or make things worse.  Finally, have them pull it out of the bag but make sure there’s always a price.  For urban fantasy writers who want a long running series, you need to throw in a few long running arcs, sometimes obvious, sometimes subtle, and then you need to start tying the stories together; linking them back to that arc.

The skill in delivering a good read isn’t just knowing that basic template, the skill is wrapping a story around it filled with people you can empathise with, root for and cry for.  It’s in delivering a compelling narrative, hiding the clues in plain sight, giving us sparkling dialogue, and the hundred other things that good craftsmen and women demonstrate in their writing.

Jim Butcher is undeniably excellent at his craft.  He may have off-days (I found Ghost Story lacking), but Skin Game is an emotional blockbuster.  Harry Dresden is on form, and I’m not ashamed to say there are plenty of scenes in the book that made me weep and cry, sometimes for joy, sometimes in relief, and sometimes in pure sadness.  The pacing is great, the dialogue is just magical, and the other characters are as excellent as always.

However, the bones are still showing inside the emotional flesh of the story.  There’s an element of ‘we can’t kill Harry so we’re always going to have to kill his friends’ that Butcher just can’t get around.  He’s built Harry up to be invincible for physical and political reasons, and the net result is that no matter how much he gets brutally injured (and he does, often), you know the ultimate step is going to be an attack on his friends and family.

It’s inevitable, and it happens a couple of times in the book (not mentioning when).  Jim’s skill of course, ensures that the scenes in which it happens are emotional, gripping and thrilling, and that compensates, and ensures the book is still going to get great ratings, but some part of me is sitting outside of that, rationally reminding myself that Jim has a problem.

Skin Game is a heist story, of supernatural proportions.  The gang is put together, the heist is planned, and then the game is afoot.  It is engaging, funny, thrilling, sad, joyous and emotional in all the right places.  Some of the scenes are truly sublime, and it’s got many of the long standing characters from the series.  In fact, like Cold Days it really starts to tie many of those characters and events together into a deeper understanding of what’s going on in the world of Dresden.

But there’s one scene I can’t get of my head.  It’s not a big spoiler.  Dresden goes to see Michael.  Dresden stands on the doorstep and tells Michael that he thinks he might need help, and that he thinks he’s lost.  Given how I felt about Ghost Story, and Cold Days when I first tried to read it, I can’t but wonder if that was Jim asking the same question.

How does he fit a story around Harry now that Harry is the character he is.  What’s next, and how can he possible contain it?

It’s a rather rambling review, for which I apologise.  After being disappointed with Ghost Story, I tried Cold Days but didn’t quite finished it.  Trying again, I re-read Cold Days recently, enjoying it more than the first time and immediately picked up Skin Game.  Skin Game is an excellent urban fantasy novel, it’s emotional and entertaining, and it really does drive the story of Dresden forward, but is it sustainable?  Is Dresden’s power sustainable, and are the stories sustainable in the face of it?

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Jim Butcher
  • Series: Dresden Files (15)
  • Format: Hardback
  • Publisher: Orbit
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Broken Homes

Broken Homes is back on par with the first book in the series. It was enjoyable, easy to read, gripping and exciting. It’s left me looking forward to the fifth book, and there’s not much wrong with that.

Broken Homes (Rivers of London 4) Broken Homes is the fourth book in Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series.  I’m not sure if he’s actually using that series name, but Amazon and various other sites are, so I guess I will.  It could equally be called the fourth DC Grant book, which is probably more accurate.  Although the Rivers certainly make appearances in each of the books, their influence wanes and waxes, where Peter Grant is the central character.

The series is essentially a supernatural police procedural, with DC Grant forming a third of the police unit within the Met that investigates ‘weird stuff’, along with Nightingale (his boss) and Lesley, his ‘it’s complicated’ friend and colleague.  The Folly, which is their base of operations is home to them, a dog, and Molly, a slightly sinister housekeeper. It’s best not to argue with Molly in case she eats you.

The rest of the cast is made up of normal police officers (normal in the sense that they aren’t magical, their personalities are often far from average), a range of magical and non-magical bad guys, various supernatural entities who may or may not be goblins, river spirits, gods and demons and a sinister arch-nemesis, the Faceless Man.

It’s common in Urban Fantasy for there to be something to investigate, a long running arc which may or may not be linked, and one or two other weird things going on which all magically come together at the end, and Ben’s approach is no different.  The story starts with a mixture of crimes, not all of them obviously related, and an ongoing investigation in the identity of the Faceless Man.  As the tale progresses, links appear to start to form and as Peter digs deeper and deeper, both the danger and the connections increase.

Eventually, things explode at the end, with dramatic and tragic consequences.

I was surprised how little magic there was in the third book of the series, given the focus in the first two was more aimed at the supernatural side of the world.  Book four makes a return to that focus, with plenty of police work, but equally significant amounts of mystical and magical actions.  There’s an excellent section with the most obvious and overt use of magical power in the series so far, where Nightingale finally gets to let rip, and this alone would be reason to read the book.

The pace is well judged, and the story builds tension throughout, I was constantly expecting things to go south but when they finally did, I was surprised at the direction it took.  On reflection, I shouldn’t have been – which is always a good sign.  The hints were there, and in the back of my mind I’d formed the connections, but it wasn’t until I read the words that it all clicked in to place.

Ben’s characters are so very real; they leap from the page.  The dialogue is simply sublime, and he doesn’t pull any punches to make his characters softer or more likeable.  His use of a strongly mixed race and mixed gender cast is second to none in the urban fantasy arena; although he uses those racial and gender differences in the story, they are well blended, sensible and useful, rather than merely being there to tick boxes.

It’s not all perfect however.  Sometimes the book feels like a series of events strung together, which of course most books are, and yet with Ben’s I can sometimes see the joins.  It’s not a serious issue, the dialogue and the plot eventually win out, and I can’t put my finger on exactly why it feels like this, but it’s not as smooth as say Dresden or the Felix Castor series, both of which are similar in style to Rivers of London.  There was a lengthy section in the book about the Rivers of London celebrating the arrival of spring, which was sort of interesting but I’m not sure it drove the story forward at all, and I could have lived without it.

Those two minor points aside, Broken Homes is back on par with the first book in the series.  It was enjoyable, easy to read, gripping and exciting.  It’s left me looking forward to the fifth book, and there’s not much wrong with that.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Ben Aaronovitch
  • Series: Rivers of London (4)
  • Format: Paperback
  • Publisher: Gollancz
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Whispers Under Ground

Whispers Under Ground (Rivers of London 3) Whispers Under Ground is the third book in the Rivers of London (or DC Peter Grant) series.  The book sees familiar characters DC Peter Grant, Nightingale (his boss), Stephanopoulos (his other boss), Seawoll (his other, other boss), and Lesley, who’s face he ruined, work together to solve another mysterious crime in London.  This time, there’s been a murder on in the London underground and if DC Peter Grant isn’t careful, he might have to do some real police work.

Ben’s prose is punchy, witty and very easy to read.  His insight into both the mind of DC Grant and the workings of various London authorities is entertaining and laugh out loud in places.  DC Grant is great, and he feels amazingly real.  There isn’t any cliché here or a feeling of made up emotions.  Peter is honest, embarrassing, offensive, offended and emotionally stunted in all the right places.  His interactions with those around him are a master class in observational writing, and frankly, I could read pages and pages about Peter doing little other than going shopping.

Thankfully, Aaronovitch gives Peter just a little bit more than that to do.  As is traditional with urban fantasy there’s a ‘background arc’ and the actual police case to be getting on with.  Both are engaging, to some degree, although neither was rivetingly interesting.  The murder case is about some people we don’t really know, or get to know much, and the background arc is a little thin on the content.

However, the introduction of a couple of new characters (an FBI agent, and someone from the British Transport Police) give Peter and Leslie some excellent material to work with, and generate a load of excellent banter.

The whole book felt rather gentle, there’s no great surprises, and although there are a few moments of genuine peril, overall it was a much more relaxed investigation than either book one or book two.  The magical content is pretty low as well, with the primary focus being on the police procedural aspect and actually pounding the pavement as it were.  I didn’t miss the supernatural elements, and there’s still enough to make it fantasy rather than a crime drama, but I do wonder about the overall direction.

The end is rather simple, and delivered pretty much out of the blue.  There’s plenty of supporting material, but if you could figure out the detail in advance, then it was too clever for me.  It’s not an issue, because without the legwork it wouldn’t have been there, but it’s certainly not the climax to a long and thrilling chase, for example.

In the end, Whispers Under Ground is a book about DC Grant, and along the way he solves a murder with the help of some other interesting people.  It’s engaging, witty, and absolutely well worth reading, but it’s not going to bowl you over with suspense.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Ben Aaronovitch
  • Series: Rivers of London (3)
  • Format: Paperback
  • Publisher: Gollancz
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Vampire Watchmen

Vampire Watchmen (Samantha Carter) It’s been a year since Samantha Carter blasted back to 1888, barely escaping with her life. Now, returned to present-day London with only her nymphomaniac flatmate for company, she’s starting to believe that everything – the blood-curdling vampires, her strange and sudden skills with a gun, even her mysterious lover Harry – was nothing but a dream.

Just when Sammy is about to lose all hope that her friends and memories were real, it finally happens again. This time she’s pulled back to a city she does not recognise: a London in the grip of a terrible plague, where death haunts the night and a deeper, darker threat lurks underground, waiting for its chance . . .

Fighting side by side with her friends once again, Sammy encounters horrors beyond her imagining; yet what really terrifies her are the endless questions, one most of all: who is she really? Torn between the life she longs for and the life she can believe in, Sammy must decide whether she’s brave enough to risk everything, even her heart . . .

Well, I have to say I enjoyed this book more than I did the first.  The writing was smoother although I still found it a little on the immature side, and while the story still jumped around from scene to scene without much transition it was easier to follow this time.

I warmed up more to the characters and Sammy in particular but I still found the connections hard – especially between Sammy and Harry.  Their sex scenes were much more readable but there still doesn’t seem to have been anywhere near enough interaction between them to make it seem real rather than a bit tawdry or meaningless.  Also the multiple references to listening to her nymphomaniac flatmate having sex (or Preacher and Louise) was a bit off-putting.

The plot makes a bit more sense in that it’s obviously going to be a recurring theme for Sammy to time travel but have no idea why or remember where, and the groundwork that should have been in the first book was finally present in the second one.  There are still some moments where Sammy does idiotic things for the plot’s sake and I find that hard to take – she is not a stupid woman yet does stupid things.  For example, she gets warned not to do something and with very good reasons and then she goes and does them anyway.  It just makes me facepalm.

By the end I did want to know more and Sammy and a couple of the other characters were starting to grow on me but overall, it was not a book I found gripping or exciting, and was just an OK read.  I will read the next book because the big picture plot is quite interesting, but I strongly hope the series continues to improve as much as this book did.

Book Information
  • Author: Tim O'Rourke
  • Series: Samantha Carter (2)
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

Cursed Moon

Cursed Moon: Prospero's War: Book Two MAGIC IS A DRUG. IT’LL COST MORE THAN YOU CAN PAY.

When a rare Blue Moon upsets the magical balance in the city, Detective Kate Prospero and her Magical Enforcement colleagues pitch in to help Babylon PD keep the peace. Between potions going haywire and everyone’s emotions running high, every cop in the city is on edge. But the moon’s impact is especially strong for Kate who’s wrestling with guilt over falling off the magic wagon.

After a rogue wizard steals dangerous potions from the local covens, Kate worries their suspect is building a dirty magic bomb. Her team must find the anarchist rogue before the covens catch him, and make sure they defuse the bomb before the Blue Moon deadline. Failure is never an option, but success will require Kate to come clean about her secrets.

So poor Kate is in it up to her neck – secrets, lies, John Volo and Uncle Abe, not to mention the events of the first book threatening to drag her under.  Her promotion to a member of the MEA taskforce is taking its toll on her both personally and professionally.  However, she is trying so hard to make it work and to stay away from magic that my heart goes out to her at every turn.  With the Blue Moon bearing down on them, Babylon is going crazy and she seems to be just one step behind all the time.  Danny, Pen, Baba all think they know what is best for her but do they, especially when she doesn’t know what that is herself.

The task force members continue to grow on me and I especially love Drew Morales, he is so deadpan and sarcastic.  I also love that while there is flirting and heat between Kate and Morales, it’s on a very slow burn and was not a central crux for either Dirty Magic nor this book.  What is developing is trust, understanding and barriers dropping which actually seems more intimate.

Parts of the book are pretty heart-wrenching, with Kate’s best friend Pen breaking down and barriers developing between them.  There are also some very funny moments as well, which balances the book out brilliantly.

The pace is much more even in this second book, now we know how the world works and Kate’s place in it.  The action is pretty full on with the plot being tied to the arrival of the full moon and the threat that is bound up with it.

Some more interesting characters were introduced here – the most notable being Aphrodite, what a perfect creation,  I loved reading the scenes with her/him in it.  I also just realised I forgot to mention Mary and Little Man in the last review but I shall mention them now, as they continued to entertain and become a part of the story.  Again, a brilliant creation that I have come to love (even given the creepiness factor!).

I really loved the ending and the things Kate has come to realise, and I applaud Jaye Wells for her handling of the issues surrounding it.  I don’t think it will be a smooth run for Kate still but it’s a good start, if a little bitter-sweet.

A clever and gripping second book in this series and I can’t wait for the third!

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Book Information
  • Author: Jaye Wells
  • Series: Prospero's War (2)
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

 

Dirty Magic

Dirty Magic: Prospero's War: Book One MAGIC IS A DRUG. BE CAREFUL HOW YOU USE IT.

The Magical Enforcement Agency keeps dirty magic off the streets, but there’s a new blend out there that’s as deadly as it is elusive. When patrol cop Kate Prospero shoots the lead snitch in this crucial case, she’s brought in to explain herself. But the more she learns about the investigation, the more she realises she must secure a spot on the MEA task force.

Especially when she discovers that their lead suspect is the man she walked away from ten years earlier – on the same day she swore she’d given up dirty magic for good.

I’ve been having a bit of trouble with Urban Fantasy lately in that it all seemed quite similar and nothing was really grabbing me.  I was already a fan of Jaye Wells’ Sabina Kane series, and the back blurb on Dirty Magic seemed a little different, enough to grab my attention and want to give it a go.

It did start a little slowly but it was a new version of our world to build and it was really interesting learning how potions have become part of normal, everyday life alongside conventional medicine.  I thought it was a really clever alternate commentary on how pharmaceuticals have done the same in our reality.  You have clean potions (legal) and dirty potions (illegal) and the alchemy adepts who brew or ‘cook’ them.  Covens instead of drug cartels, but it all results in addicts needing another fix and another dirty potion hitting the streets for those who are looking for the next big thing.  Addicts of clean potions like vanities, youth, weight loss or pain also hits home.

Kate Prospero is an excellent heroine – a former adept with a talent for making magic potions turned cop with a young brother to raise.  I understood her issues and felt for her for trying to make something good out of a life that dealt her a bad hand.  She isn’t a hugely powerful magic user, nor a clairvoyant, vampire etc.  In fact she goes out of her way not to use magic (sometimes a little too far) but for very good reasons (you have to read the book to find out what those are!).  She became a cop in order to balance the scales for what she had to do as a kid and that is where the brilliance of Dirty Magic comes in.  It’s a police procedural as much as an urban fantasy and it works very very well.  Wells’ research was meticulous and having read a lot of crime and thrillers, this was spot on for me.  Obviously the fantastical elements were included and I loved them!

I also thought I could see where the book was going to go when we were introduced very early to Kate’s ex, John Volos – fabulously rich, bad guy turned philanthropist (and I admit I rolled my eyes when I made that cynical snap judgment).  Full credit to Jaye Wells for completely surprising me in that regard!  The team of MEA agents were brilliant too and did much to flesh out the feel of this book – Mesmer and Morales in particular were my favourites but also Gardner for her sarcasm and no nonsense attitude.

I really liked the plot – seemed pretty simple at first but there were several layers to the story and it kept things interesting right to the end. So in spite of the slow start, everything else worked wonderfully and it was a really good book.

If like me, you have become a bit Urban Fantasy jaded – take it from me, this is something different that will really grab you!

Book Information
  • Author: Jaye Wells
  • Series: Prospero's War (1)
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

The Shambling Guide to New York City

The Shambling Guide to New York City (The Shambling Guides) Zoe Norris is a successful guide book writer/editor who lost her job due to a dalliance with her boss.  Unfortunately the boss turned out to be married, a fact he’d neglected to tell Zoe until his wife, also the town’s Chief of Police found out and became very unhappy. Conveniently made redundant and strongly encouraged to leave town for her safety, she heads back to her home city of New York.  A job advert pinned up in a very odd old bookshop seemed tailor made for Zoe except that she keeps being told that she wouldn’t be suitable… Being human had never had a downside before.

This is the first book I’ve read by Mur Lafferty and I really enjoyed it.  A travel guide for the non-human visitors and denizens of New York City was a brilliant premise and the author built up a great cast of characters centred around Zoe.

Each chapter is separated with an excerpt from the guide and they make great little informational snippets that helped flesh out the ‘world’ Zoe never knew existed before applying for the job.  Often they relate to a place you’ve recently discovered in the story and it was a really nice touch.

Zoe herself is a really well written character, and I loved her a lot; her sense of humour is very appealing and matched well with my own.  She also has a huge amount of determination and balls of steel to enter into a world where she is at the bottom of the food chain… literally.  Her co-workers and new boss are brought to life (so to speak!) with equal care and attention and made this an extremely well rounded book.

The pace of the book was well measured; slow at the start while Zoe was still trying to come to terms with the massive change in her life and figuring out what her new direction would be.  As she discovered this supernatural half to the city she never knew about, it started to pick up.  As she got to grips with it and the story progressed, it sped up until it was running full tilt at the end.  I was quite breathless!

The plot was equally as measured, and we discovered the new ‘world’ at the same time as Zoe and went through it all with her.  From co-workers who would love to have her for dinner to weird and wonderful establishments catering to the weird and wonderful, it was a great read.  What really made it good though, was the threat hanging over her that someone was out to get her and would stop at nothing to mess with her life.  Who that was, was very well concealed, and I was kept guessing right to the end.  The action scenes were entertaining, sometimes funny and it was a refreshing change to have a heroine who wasn’t suddenly a kick ass fighter with unimaginable power.  She was however organised enough to keep working on the book as her new found life threatened to come crashing down around her!

In summary, this is a great book and highly recommended to fans of Urban Fantasy.  I can’t wait for the next book in the series!

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Book Information
  • Author: Mur Lafferty
  • Series: The Shambling Guides (1)
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)