Ronald, M. (2010). Wild Hunt. New York: Eos.

Artist Don Sipley

In “Wild Hunt” we return to Boston’s very own hound, Genvieve (Evie) Scelan, whose part-time job is to hunt for lost objects/people by using her sense of smell. Her “nose” has roots back to Ireland’s Fionn mac Cumhaill and his niece, Sceolan. Ronald‘s writing kept on dragging me into this novel that takes place in a Boston where the undercurrent, once again, threatens Evie Scelan and the people she cares for.

Wild Hunt continues the lives of some of the characters from Spiral Hunt. They are Evie, Nate, Katie, Sarah, Allison and Rena along with some other minor characters. The cast specific to Wild Hunt are Abigail and Patrick Huston, Mr. Janssen, Mr. Yuen, Elizabeth Yuen and Reverend James Woodfin.

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Yuen died twenty minutes after I arrived, and I was there to make sure of it. …

“Please listen carefully Hound. You can sense the … ghost — of my father-” … “-within this jar. When I am dead, I will want you to confirm that it is gone. Do you understand?” …

“I’m sorry you had to be the one to see this.” (ch. 1)

When the Bright Brotherhood’s hold on Boston had broken, other forces were circling in for power. Power is a dangerous tool if wielded by the wrong hands and Yuen’s death opened the door to a chain of events that had its roots in myth and history. The entire novel plays with that history.

Protecting herself and others from the undercurrent was hard-wired into Evie by her mother. Unfortunately, she herself had passed the point of no return and wisely decided she needed to better understand what the undercurrent was. However, by trying to keep her friends from falling into the deep further, Evie took their choice away from them. A lack of knowledge turned out to be a detriment for them and made things harder for Evie. The undercurrent is filled with dangerous people who look out for number one. Even the client who hired Evie did not care if Evie got hurt. Her extra sense both helped and hindered Evie in her hunts for  history.

When authors have the knowledge they need about a certain topic, their knowledge gives them the freedom to mess with it. Ronald’s understanding of Celtic mythology, Wild Hunts and Boston drives the story. From the first chapter she guided us through an alternate Boston, magicking important places such as the Mount Auburn Cemetery,

This was my city. I’d said as much to Janssen, and I didn’t regret it. Here, in this high place, I could see it all – and further, the heavy green of trees in Cambridge and Newton, the Blue hills through their haze, Summit Hill and its park, the great coliseum of Harvard’s stadium across the river. … (p. 100)

A shape rose up from the gaping blackness of the stairwell, a man in a robe or a long coat, no more than a shadow against shadows. A snarl cut through the amalgam’s screaming like a sword through a snake……..(p. 107)

the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum,

The building that was such a drab block on the outside held a garden within. An atrium four stories high looked down onto green grass and running water, fountains and sculpture and tiles side by side as if strewn by some titanic hand……. (p. 186)

and the MIT University.

I followed his trail past the weird little brick thing that looked like a missile silo, past another building that looked like the rest of the buildings had been beating up on it, …. (p. 19)

Ronald’s characters are easy to love. There is little glamour in any of their lives or to their looks. All of them are people trying to get by in the lives handed to them by fate. PhD candidate, Nate, has to be a father for his little sister Katie (8). Poor Nate struggled with several issues time. Katie had to be much more independent than most eight-year-olds do, yet retained their vulnerability. She is one of my favourite people. Sarah and her partner Allison were life-savers for the pair. Sarah has her own store and Allison is a lawyer. The couple trained and watched over Katie when Nate could not. In different ways Evie loves all four of them. We did not see Rena as much this time around. Or rather, we saw her in a different capacity. Evie’s character was solidified through her interactions and feelings about all of her friends.

I used to be able to deal with these things better. I used to not care what happened in the undercurrent, so long as it left me unscathed. … (p.17)

… two of my friends had been yanked headfirst into the deeps of the undercurrent…

There were obligations, and then there were things that you couldn’t ever pay back, not fully…. (p. 18)

This lack of glamour made it easier for all of them to grab a bit of my heart. They all grew even more into their roles and became “real”. Maybe that is what defines Ronald’s writing. She made me care enough about the characters that they have stayed in my mind. While most metaphors kept the atmosphere dark: “There was something both pitiful and disgusting about it, like a baby rat.” there was plenty of humour: “cram everything into a reticule the size of a biscuit“.

Wild Hunt was filled with plenty of action and adventure and fun scenes. Much like Spiral Hunt, Wild Hunt seemed to be about the value and cost of friendship and family and also about who family is. Is biology the deciding factor of who gets to be a family?

I would most definitely recommend this book that is an urban fantasy mystery ghost story filled with Celtic mythology, some violence, some sex, and Boston in Massachusetts.


Reviews:

My review of Spiral Hunt.

Ronald, M. (2009). Spiral Hunt. New York: EOS.

Cover art by Don Sipley

A descendant of Celtic mythological figures, Evie Scelan honors her long-dead ancestor Sceolan. With a nose that guides her through the neighborhoods of Boston, Scelan hunts what has been lost. In Spiral Hunt, climax is reached at the spiral’s centre. Like her long time ancestor, Scelan must see through illusions, deceptions and glamours to uncover truth the Bright Brotherhood wanted hidden from the rest of the undercurrent.

No one ever calls in the middle of the night if they have good news. ……

……………… “Hound watch for a collar. The hunt comes …”

“Frank, you son of a bitch.” I said at last. “Couldn’t you have stayed dead?” (ch. 1)

Spiral Hunt is a mystery urban fantasy story, with the disappearance of Frank as its mystery, Boston as its urban, and Celtic mythology as its fantasy. Boston is our Boston, except with an addition of an undercurrent (i.e. the super-natural). As a bike courier, Scelan has access to people of all inclinations and socioeconomic classes  all over Boston. Throw in magic, corruption, and Celtic gods and heroes and we have a highly entertaining story. There is no love-triangle and the Bechdel Test is passed with flying colours. Its mythology is well researched. Part of her preparations included the study of Celtic mythology to a degree that she was comfortable enough with the material to play with it for our pleasure. None of the characters of the story have unlimited power, or even amazing amounts of power on their own. Only those born to their powers (blood magic), like Scelan, can use it without destroying themselves or others. However, even blood magic is severely limited and can be highly addictive.

… It was an old silver Chrysler painted up like a demolition derby car, but with weirder symbols, like the result of a ghetto graffiti-fest organized by the Rosicrucians. … (p. 42)

Roland’s prose is lovely. Her writing is clear and without mistakes. Dialogues in Spiral Hunt affect the mood and tone of the story, and, even when they happen in the middle of a crisis, they remained believable. Throughout the story the author gifts me with hints that feed my curiosity.  Showing, not telling, is the rule of thumb in this story. Point of view is a first-person point of view, allowing us a look at what goes on inside Scelan’s head and how she perceives her world. I tend to prefer this kind of story-telling. Each chapter number is preceeded by the celtic symbol called triskelion/triskela or a triple spiral. My paperback copy is about 300 pages.

“I know what you are going to say,” I said warily. “Every magician in the city …”

Sarah wasn’t listening. “Every magician in-” She frowned and shot an exasperated glare at me. “Okay. But doesn’t make it any less true. You can’t be a magician and just give out your real name to anyone who asks.”

“I do give out my real name. That’s because I’m not a magician.”

While solving the mystery of Frank’s disappearance, Evie has to hunt several truths about herself, most of them painful to find. Not until she stops lying to herself is she able to reach her potential. That lie carries a heavy price for her. However, Evie is not the only one who lies to Evie. Who can she trust and what is the cost of that trust? Not only that, but she has to figure out how to live up to the trust of the important people in her life. As with so many other stories, Spiral Hunt is about learning to accept yourself as you are. That acceptance does not mean that there is nothing that needs to change. In fact, acceptance seems to show Evie even more things that she has to work on. One of those things should probably be her love of the baseball team, the Red Sox. Or not.

So. How do I rate Spiral Hunt? I loved it. Definitely one of the better novels I have read. This is my second time reading it and I will read it again = Wholeheartedly recommended.


Reviews:

 

Cross, K. (2014). Miss Mabel’s School for Girls. (Network I). Antebellum Publishing.

Cover by Jenny Zemanak

Without strings attached, K. Cross offers a free copy of Miss Mabel’s School for Girls to any and all on her website.

I stared at the lavender flowers on the white china and willed my heart to stop pounding. Papa’s advice whispered through my head like the balm of a cool poultice, settling my nerves (p. 1).

Miss Mabel’s School for Girls is a fun installment in the young adult serial The Network. Miss Mabel’s School for Girls was Cross‘ first installment in the story about Antebellum, a magic world ruled by a government called the Network consisting of five nations with a High Priestess and High Priest as their leaders. Miss Mabel’s school lies in Letum Woods in the Central Network (led by the High Priestess).

I spent years preparing for this. It won’t frighten me now.

I was a terrible liar. Attending Miss Mabel’s School for Girls did frighten me, but so did staying home, forfeiting my only chance at freedom (p. 6).

Given the author’s place of residence (Idaho, US) it comes as no surprise that this is a story about good (Bianca’s side) vs. evil (Miss Mabel’s side). The story is told from the main character’s (i.e. Bianca Monroe, 16 years old) point of view. The reason for Bianca’s desperate need to get into the school and become Miss Mabel’s pupil and assistant is revealed early on. We soon learn that she has been honed for that purpose for many years by her family. During her interview with the Watcher, Bianca is warned that she must not underestimate Miss Mabel.

“This is the third-year corridor. Don’t go in there!” Camille said, pulling me back when I stepped across the doorway. “They get really picky about first-years in their area. Especially Priscilla.” She lowered her tone and spoke behind her hand. “She gets really upset. Her dad is rich so she gets away with it.” (p. 11).

In addition to being a good vs. evil story, Miss Mabel’s School for Girls is also about finding one’s place in the world. On her first day at school, Bianca gains two first-year friends (Camille who has a hard time concentrating on her studies and Leda who is always studying). Bianca enters the Competition for the spot of Assistant and her main competitor is Priscilla, who is from a powerful family. Priscilla also seems driven to win the competition and is terrified of the consequences of losing. Only one person may win, and I expect all of you to know who that person will be.

Most likely it is due to compatibility problems between Kindle and whichever publishing program Cross used that the text sometimes has a stapled underline beginning with a number and the word “Highlighters”. Several authors have commented on similar  problems.

The three friends have three girls as opponents. Beautiful Priscilla from a powerful family and her plain friends Stephany and Jade. Reading about these two groups makes it obvious to me which other authors Cross has been influenced by. In Bianca’s case, the threesome’s characteristics are very similar to Harry Potter, Hermione and Ron. Priscilla’s threesome isn’t as obviously so.

Miss Mabel is the beautiful wicked witch. At times her behaviour becomes stereotypically so, but fortunately, Case manages to steer away from stereotype most of the time. There is no cackling. She is probably the character I liked the most.

I glanced up at Letum Wood with an uncertain eye. Nothing in that forest would make this as simple as it sounded. The eerie darkness crept about like a lazy fog, filled with unknown shadows and creatures you couldn’t always anticipate. (p. 52).

I really enjoyed Bianca’s ventures into Letum Wood and Priscilla’s troublesome last trial. I really liked Leda’s courage.  Miss Mabel’s School for Girls is a dark story and Cross does a good job creating the atmosphere and emotions required. Thankfully, the author generally manages to steer clear of telling and instead lets us find out things on our own.

Despite similarities and Miss Mabel’s sometimes stereotypical behaviour, the characters are believable for its US readers. Those who worry about explicit content (violence or sex) need not worry. For readers who enjoy young adult good vs. evil stories Miss Mabel’s School for Girls is a good read.

If you wish to read the stories in chronological order, you should begin with Mildred’s Resistance or you could buy the entire Network serial in one go.


Reviews:

Never Underestimate a Woman

There was a man who had worked all of his life and had saved all of his money and was a real miser when it came to his money. He loved money more than just about anything, and just before he died, he said to his wife, “Now listen. When I die, I want you to take all my money and put it in the casket with me. I want to take my money to the afterlife with me.”

And so he got his wife to promise him with all of her heart that when he died, she would put all of the money in the casket with him. Well, he died. He was stretched out in the casket, his wife was sitting there in black, and her friend was sitting next to her. When they finished the ceremony, just before the undertakers got ready to close the casket, the wife said, “Wait just a minute!” She had a box with her. She came over with the box and put it in the casket. Then the undertakers locked the casket down and rolled it away.

So her friend said, “Girl, I know you weren’t fool enough to put all that money in there with your husband.” She said, “Listen, I’m a GOOD woman; I can’t go back on my word. I promised him that I would put that money in the casket with him.”

“You mean to tell me you put all that money in the casket with him!!!?”

“I sure did,” said the wife. “I wrote him a check. If he can cash it, he can spend it.”

Pat Miller, May 3, 2003

Thoma, C. (2014). Boreal and John Grey. Season 2. Self-published.

As with Thoma‘s Season 1 collection, I bought the entire Season 2 of the Boreal and John Grey serial. Once again, I really enjoyed the five novellas that make up Season 2: The Threads (73p), The Snare (77p), The Warp (96p), The Loop (99p) and The Weave.

When we left Season 1, Ella’s boss changed his mind about killing Finn – as much as a Duergar/Guardian of the Gates is able to. Lots of blod had been shed, much of it by the two main characters (Ella and Finn). Now it was time for recuperation and a sort or regular life. As much as a John Grey and his Stabilizer could hope for.

Insistent ringing roused Ella from sleep, shattering a dream of Finn talking to her earnestly about lollipops.

Lollipops? Seriously?

Damn ringing continued. Had to be the alarm clock, Ella thought fuzzily and made a grab for it, upturning the lamp on her bedside table and catching it a second before it crashed to the floor.

Not the alarm clock.

Phone. Blindly she groped for it and rolled on her back to answer, her arm flopping to the side. (p. 1)

Of course, recuperation and rest are not on any hunter’s schedule. Their short leave comes to an end with the sighting of a white flying creature. All land creatures from Aelfheim are white, a necessity on a frozen world. A very long time ago Ljosaelfar made their way to Earth/Midgard through Gates created by John Grey to pierce the veil between worlds. Earth was ripe for the taking, warm and willing, while Aelfheim was frigid and stormy. Primitive Viking leaders were no threat. What the Boreal had forgotten was that invaders cannot only watch the invadees but should also watch their backs. Their attempt was thwarted by the Dokkaelfar.

Because gates have once again started appearing, that means that John Grey must exist. In Season 1 we found out that John Grey is not a single individual but rather a title bestowed on people with the ability to open Gates. As we know, today that person is Finn.

He tensed, his back arching. “Asmodr,” he gasped out. His hands curled into fists and an image hit her like a bullet between the eyes.

A blinding form, humanoid, the face dark but the rest sparkling as if made of broken mirror shards — and there was pain, bowing her spine, splitting her head, until she couldn’t breathe. The light intensified, searing into her retinas. (Kindle Locations 441-445).

However, Finn does not operate in a vacuum. For some reason his abilities require a Stabilizer, and that Stabilizer is Ella. We are about to find out what on earth a Stabilizer is and does.

Something zipped by her head. She waved a hand at her face with the vague idea it was an insect — then that something slammed into the wall of the rooftop entrance, cracking the concrete. (Kindle Locations 492-494).

There are many who want to control John Grey and his Stabilizer, for those “who control the Gates, control everything”. Hopeful puppet masters hunt the couple using their weaknesses against them. Our own history is full of successful puppet masters whose mantra is that “the end justifies the means” and are perfectly willing to kill their potential puppets if they cannot gain that control.

I really like this about Seasons 1 and 2 of Boreal and John Grey. Thoma is a Greek-Cypriot, and if anyone knows anything at all about puppet masters it is they. Even now they are victims of the breed. Maybe that is one reason the author writes so vividly and realistically about the topic.

This time, the collected novellas ended in a true cliff-hanger. If I had thought that was how the entire serial was ending, I wouldn’t have minded it as much. However, as is the case, everything about the ending points towards a Season 3.

Once again, Thoma’s writing is excellent. Rhythm, flow, and plot-tightness is maintained until the last period is written. Point of View is third person told through Ella’s eyes. Again, the story is full of action, betrayal, strange creatures, agencies, and magic, i.e. all the elements required for a great fantasy thriller. There is swearing, violence and sex (Euro-Vanilla on all three/maybe US age 16). If this does not bother you, then Boreal and John Grey ought to be a great read. It certainly was for me.


My review of:

Thoma, C. (2014). Boreal and John Grey Season 1. Self-published.

I absolutely loved the scifi/fantasy/thriller story Boreal and John Grey, Season One. Thoma is an author that justifies self-published works.  Season 1 contains the novellas “The Encounter” (45 p), “The Gate” (70 p), “The Dragon” (94 p), “The Dream” (100 p) and “The Truth” (107 p).

Although it was early September, the cold bit to the bone and the air smelled like snow. Snow and piss and trash. The alley stretched ahead, empty of life and strewn with crushed cans and paper.

Ella didn’t move. Faint humming filled her ears, and clicking noises sounded. The clouds above shifted, though no wind blew. The Veil was thinning. Shades would be lurking, waiting to pounce. In the past, faint, frail faeries came through; these had recently turned into more malevolent creatures — kobolds and goblins with a taste for blood. (p. 1.)

Right off the story reveals the quality of Thoma’s work and the kind of story we can expect. The first two paragraphs seethe with potential action and foreshadow a dark story. For Boreal and John Grey, Season 1 is a dark and action-filled story about elements of the Paranormal Investigation Bureau (PIB) and its dealings somewhere in the US.

PIB Voyants (“Sight”, i.e. can see Shades) are paired off and sent to investigate and deal with possible sightings of Shades (Vaettir). Ella Benson and Simon Esterhase make up one such pairing. An anonymous call was redirected to their team, yet only Ella turns up to hunt. What she discovers about the Veil and the Shades disturbs her boss, David Holborn. She does not reveal that when a goblin was about to kill her, it was instead destroyed by a man who fought “like a hurricane” and who left after making sure she was OK (without sharing his name). Throughout the story Ella finds that trusted people aren’t trustworthy while suspicious characters might not be suspicious after all. We also meet the ever-trustworthy Mike, Ella’s neighbour, friend and also Oracle (“He hears the Shades.”, p. 116).

Ella and the mysterious stranger are our main characters. Both are “Heroes“, i.e. “solitary people who fight for the greater good to the detriment of themselves and who do what must be done so others can live normal lives.”

Thoma tells us that she was inspired by the Icelandic saga Eddukvæði by Sæmundar (English translation). I saw this in the details of the story and how the characters from the Edda fit into modern US and  its paranoia. Edda’s inspiration made for recognizable yet new and original characters. I loved the description of the alternate evolution on a Boreal world (brrr).

Any steady reader of this blog knows that romance is not my thing. A majority of romance authors seem incapable of writing believable character interaction. Not so with Thoma. In this case I believed both the emotional and physical interactions that took place. The sex was European vanilla, and the violence held back yet remained believable. Swearing fit with its position in the story.

Certain issues were extremely relevant in a global context. Hatred left from wars leading to atrocious actions from extremist groups on both sides (e.g. Dave and Adramar) is one issue. Relationships across racial/ethnical divides is another. Child abuse a third. No preaching was involved. I hate preaching, even when I am the one doing the preaching. The worst part of the story was that it ended.

Information was weaved into the story in a manner that kept the drive going. No stutters or dissonances were found. Due to Thoma’s world-building, and how tight the story was, I found it difficult to  take breaks.

Each episode flowed flawlessly into the next and the amount of editing that must have gone into this showed. Fortunately, the novel ended without a cliff-hanger. There was a clear opening for continuing the story.

By now you must realise that I heartily recommend this scifi/fantasy/thriller. Fun characters, great resolutions, sex and some violence are all wrapped up into one of the better stories I have read this year.

I bought my copy at Amazon.


My other Thoma reviews: Rex Rising

Wrong Hands on history

Wrong Hands by John Atkinson is one of the funniest cartoons I have read. Atkinson way of making fun of life is to the point yet gentle. When I feel hit by one of his arrows that gentleness makes it easier to actually think about what he is trying to point out than to become ornery.

Use public libraries

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