Detective Inspector Helen Crane of the Metropolitan Police’s Magic and Murder Squad embodies the law of unintended consequences to me. As we saw in The Sweet Scent of Blood and The Cold Kiss of Death DI Crane is out to get Genvieve Taylor. Helen is a Witch. Genvieve a Sidhe. Crane’s hatred is not due to their two races, or rather not directly. In her youth Helen Crane went through a traumatic experience that has caused her hatred for both the Sidhe fae and for Vampires. Poor Genny hasn’t a clue why DI Crane is out to destroy her, but Genvieve Taylor is the one who has to live with the consequences of that long-ago experience.
Spellcrackers.com is both serial and series. If you want to understand the overarching story of the whys and whereofs of the search for a solution to the fae sterility problem you will need to read the preceding novels. But if all you want is a fun mystery then you can read The Bitter Seed of Magic on its own. That also goes for The Sweet Scent of Blood and for The Cold Kiss of Death.
Our mystery in The Bitter Seed of Magic has to do with the strange circumstances around the deaths of fae women. They turn up glamoured to look like human girls. At the very least all magic should have been washed away by the River Thames from which they were pulled. But this is not the case. Obviously magic is involved and because of its nature Genvieve becomes involved. At first only to remove the spells on their bodies. Then it becomes personal – due to the matter of the feud DI Crane has instigated.
Genny’s own past comes to haunt her. She meets long-lost relatives. Her nickname for one of them is Mad Max (no irony intended) and that should tell you what you need to know about him. Others of her relatives also make an appearance in Genvieve’s life, but I will leave you to find out just who they are on your own. Lets just say that Mad Max is not the only crazy family Genny has. Perhaps crazy is the wrong word for their personalities. Amoral might be a better one or maybe just ethically different seeing as none of them are human.
One thing our experiences with Genvieve Taylor shows is that curses are a whole lot simpler to cast than to undo. In fact that goes for all of our experiences in life. In general it seems to be easier to prevent than to fix. Poor Genny. Left having to fix the idiocy and thoughtlessness of others. She is not on her own though and that could help. Having friends does seem to make my troubles easier to bear. New friends turn up in Genny’s life making her troubles a little less complicated as well. She will need those friends considering just who is pushing Genvieve around. Phew. I am so glad I am not her. Boring is good is my motto when it comes to my own life.
But excitement in the form of stories and excellent authors is another matter. Suzanne McLeod not only makes Genvieve Nataliya Zakharinova Taylor come alive for me but also very much makes me care what happens to her and her life and her friends.
I like Sam’s (Samhain) character. Upon beginning this review I looked for further literature about our magically-challenged witch. There is a novel (Death’s Daughter) in the inning, but I do not know when it is going to be published. The Brinded Cat (striped cat) is even more fun than Foul is Fair.
Witches and their cats! Or maybe it is witches and their familiars. In this case Mrs. McGinty’s cat is caught in a tree and Sam is asked by her boss, Fin, to climb up and rescue it. Fin is involved with Mrs. McGinty and therefore amenable to granting her small favors, but Fin is also afraid of heights. So Sam has to step into the fray and keep Fin in Mrs. McGinty’s favour, and she does. That is after all what good friends do. We support our friends in their affairs of the heart, but only to a certain point.
When Sam meets Mrs. McGinty’s cat, she realises that perhaps the cat needs rescuing but not rescuing from the tree. And off we go.
Sam is adorable. Ms. Halpin has made her strong, vulnerable, insightful, experienced and funny. I think perhaps I like people who protect under-dogs (well, in this case a cat). The vulnerable need protecting and once upon a time Sam herself found such protection when she most needed it.
How old would you have to be to read The Brinded Cat? Well, The Brinded Cat is safe enough for a five-year old to read the story, but I doubt they would get much out of it. There is extremely little violence and no sexual content. Beyond that I haven’t got a clue. There is plenty of action, some fighting, lots of magic, and a look at trust.
“Her friends shot her sympathetic glances, but none of them dared leave their husbands’ or fathers’ sides to be with her.
Smallfolk tradition prevented the girls from going off without permission, even such a small distance. It was only common sense, Tildi had been lectured all the time while growing up. Girls weren’t as strong or as fast as boys. Plenty of dangerous creatures lurked about the Quarters waiting from such a tender young morsel to happen by unprotected – and not all of them were wild animals. That was the rationale her mother had given her for why the custom continued even in cultivated places where there was no reasonable threat. The explanation did not satisfy her, but such matters could only be discussed in private among her companions where the boys couldn’t hear them. Disobedient girls would be made to stand up in meetings with a slate around their necks that read SHAME.”
Even today it can be difficult to find female main characters who stand alone. Or rather female characters who do not need romantic involvement or hero-worship of a male character to keep the story going. Tildi Summerbee in An Unexpected Apprentice manages to be such a character. Perhaps that is not such a surprise considering the society she comes from. In tearing herself loose from the Smallfolk Quarters and setting out on her own, Tildi has to redefine and question the values she has grown up with. Having been orphaned from her entire family is probably a major factor in her seeking her own future independent of the voices of her elders. Sometimes it is when we seemingly have no choices, we find that it is only just now that we have real choices.
I like Tildi. She goes from questioning her right to do anything to being someone who has learned to do without all the things she had previously thought important.
The wizard Nemeth is the reason Tildi and her merry band of 6 set off on their quest to recover “The Book” (really a scroll). My diagnosis is that Nemeth has gone insane from his contact with The Book and from his lust for revenge. I understand his need. Who hasn’t at some point or another wished for the ability to pay back some perceived wrong (whether real or imaginary). Revenge coupled with power over the fabric of the world turns out dire in its effects.
Thankfully Tildi’s merry band is a little more experienced than she. We have the wizards Edynn and her daughter Serafina. Both are accomplished at their craft even though Edynn has centuries more experience than Serafina. The princess Rin is the representative from the centaurs (half horse/half human). She is highly competitive, fun and strong. Tildi ends up having to catch a ride with Rin because of her complete lack of experience in riding any kind of animal. Lakanta is a peddler and a seemingly odd choice for the merry band, but as the story progresses we see that she too represents a group of people that aren’t quite human. Finally we have the Captain Teryn and her soldier Morag. Morag has been magically transformed into a mix of human and something else. For natural reasons he tends to panic when faced with too much magic. The Captain is highly protective of Morag.
There are two more characters that I really enjoyed in An Unexpected Apprentice. One of them is Silvertree. Silvertree is supposed to be the home of the wizard Olen. It is that. But Silvertree is also a person in its own rights. If visitors offend it, Silvertree makes life a whole lot more difficult for them – the way it did with Rin’s brother when he was rude to it. Tildi, on the other, hand gets VIP treatment from Silvertree. I like a tree with a personality.
Magpie is another great character. He lets the world think of him as nothing more than a troubadour with his mind aflutter with silliness. In fact there is a bit more depth to him and he just happens to be the third son of King Solindur of Orontae.
Nemeth isn’t really “the bad guy”. He is just crazy. If I was going to pick a “bad guy”, I would have to choose the Scholardom. Scholardom is such an innocent sounding word. Well-intentioned people can be incredibly dangerous. Getting their hands on The Book is something that must be avoided for these are the people who want to correct all the aberrations of the world. That would mean that any mix of human and other should be changed into human. They find it unfathomable that anyone would actually choose to remain as they are.
I think An Unexpected Apprentice would fit the age range of anyone able to read the Hobbit or Harry Potter. An Unexpected Apprentice is full of humour, of action, warmth, and drama.
One of the really interesting people in Path of Honor is Verit Aare. Verit Aare is the heir to the throne and eager to replace his father. As his father has been more or less absent the past six months, Aare’s lust for power is growing. Unfortunately for Koduteel (capital) and all of Kodu Riik Verit Aare is a psychopath/sociopath. While a lot of us have psychopathic traits, very few of us reach Aare’s level of sociopathy. According to Psychology Today one needs to show a lack of empathy (cold-heartedness, an inability to feel deeply); show a lack of shame, guilt, fear or embarrassment at ones actions; a tendency to blame others for their own failures, or no shame if confronted; show a strong ability to remain focused on a task; appear charming yet have a tendency toward pathological lying, and they seem comfortable even when found out; incredibly overconfident, as if they cannot fail; impulsive; incredibly selfish and parasitic; lack realistic long-term goals; and finally be prone to violence.
I feel certain most of you would be worried if a person like this lusted for the leadership of your country. Yet Aare seems to fulfil most of these criteria and for me that is the reason I find him especially fascinating and possibly revolting. Take how he treats his sister, the Vertina Emelovi, and what he does to his father’s hostage, Soka.
When Soka was nine years old his father had broken the terms of the hostage agreement. Something had to be done to avenge the wrong and it was decided that Soka would lose an eye. But the Iisand was not able to attend the removal and sent his son, Verit Aare, instead. Aare made the little boy remain awake during the procedure but had Soka drugged so he would remain docile while it went on. Finally, a map of Soka’s father’s lands was sown into the lid of his eye as a reminder of the deal. It had not been the Iisand’s intention that the procedure would be so cruel for the boy, but Aare liked the feeling it gave him.
Once again, Soka is in his power. Naturally, Soka is scared shitless. What will the Verit do to him this time?
On to Verit Aare’s sister. Poor Emelovi. She has to live with the man on a daily basis and he is not a good brother to have. Her fear of him is intense, yet he has kept his father duped as to the depths of his depravity. Perhaps that is because people tend to see what people want to see. Vertina Emelovi, on the other hand, is quite familiar with her brother’s cruelty. He expects nothing but complete submission. If she does not do what he tells her to, she suffers greatly. The first time she was made aware of that was when he killed her puppy because Emelovi had refused to dance with one of his friends. Since then, well. One does what one has to with such a maniac in the vicinity.
Aare does not like Reisil. He does his best to turn the court against her. Lucky him. Sodur (another ahalad-kaaslane team) has made his job much easier. On his part, Sodur did have the best of intentions. But what do intentions help when consequences are what determines the value of them. Poor Reisil, the consequences for her are stinky. Things are looking up for Aare when it comes to using his charisma and power-hunger against her.
Reisil is not completely alone. Kebonsat has come to court Emelovi on the chance an alliance between Kodu Riik and Patvermese might happen. Hmmm. Despite this task, Kebonsat does not forget his friendship with Reisil. Nor has Juhrnus. Reisil is thankful to have two such loyal friends on her side as it seems the rest of the powers of Kodu Riik have turned against her. But friends do turn up in strange places and sometimes lives change because of decisions one has made. She does have the “common people” on her side. But the common people do not have much power. Not really. Like us, the common people in Kodu Riik trust that the powers that be must be interested in the best of the country. Man, we are suckers, aren’t we.
If an author is going to create an Apocalyptic event he might as well do it thoroughly. Killing off seven billion people overnight seems to be pretty thorough to me. Messing with the environment and changing the stars and planets we usually see adds to that thoroughness. R.J. Murray shares such an event with us in The Event. The Event appears to be a science fiction tale that slowly but surely leans toward fantasy. Not fantasy as we know it but rather new technology that has to be developed due to the teeny tiny damages wrought by Earth’s changes. Mutated people that have the qualities we find in traditional fantasy adds to the fantasy feel of the story.
As with other apocalyptic tales, we find that the qualities people already have seem to intensify in times of crisis. This is a normal trait in humans. Any type of traumatic event tends to pare down all of our extras leaving some sort of quality central that we draw upon. This is when we see a person run back into a mall again and again saving people’s lives while others break into buildings raiding them of wares, beat up others and do other heinous deeds. People are people whether our skyline changes or not.
The mutations we see are people whose bodies morph into something other than they were used to being (that is, those who did not turn to dust or remain human). Let’s see what we have:
Wizards are people who find themselves younger/stronger/longer-lived and able to handle the tools left from before the apocalypse. All races have their own wizards.
Elves also seem to be long-lived and changed into a stronger/younger version of themselves. But they seem more attuned to plants and living creatures rather than technology.
Dwarves are like the ones in stories: like to live underground and have an affinity for stone. Dwarves are shorter and more compact than humans. They will probably end up being longer-lived as well.
Humans are more numerous than the others and breed easier. There really isn’t much more to say about them.
Goblins are like the goblins we know from epic fantasy. There are various types, sizes and numbers. Most of them live underground or underwater. They too have wizards.
Thankfully Murray hasn’t fallen for the temptation of making people smarter or dumber than they were just because they happen to be elf, wizard, dwarf or goblin. There are qualities that are intensified but if you were dumb as bread before the apocalypse, well, you are going to remain dumb as bread – and probably dead within a very short time. Some of the people have to learn the hard way and for some that means they end up dead.
That probably tells you that it is not all happy endings. In spite of that I would not say that The Event is particularly dark. It is more like the traditional sword/sorcery stories in tone. I’m guessing this is a young adult story. It’s a pretty straight-forward tale without explicit violence or explicit sex. There is action and plenty of it.
Murray builds his world for us showing us how people become what they are and what happens to the Earth itself. By the end I felt pretty comfortable with the whole thing. I felt there was a proper ending although there was a tiny hill-hanger showing me that a continuation was on its way.
A pretty enjoyable tale that looks as if it has great potential.
Michael J. Sullivan has been writing his whole life. Not until he began writing the Rirya Revelations series did he get published. Strange thing that. The Rirya Revelations had been a project that he undertook to please himself and his daughter (who has been part of designing the cartoon on Michael’s website). All six books were finished before the first one was published.
After a while the sales took off and Michael J. Sullivan has become a well-known name in the fantasy world. That recognition is well-deserved. His books are fun to read and they kept me wanting to know how the greater plot is resolved. The characters are fun and varied. It is not immediately clear whether the butler did it or not (I know there isn’t a butler in these books) and that is something that I really like in a writer. We should be kept wondering who the baddest baddie is.
All six books are stand-alone books in the sense that the main problem is resolved. However, there is a greater plot spanning all six books, so it would be a good idea to start at omnibus no. 1 – Theft of Swords. That way you get all of those pesky little threads tied together from the beginning.
Royce Melborne and Hadrian Blackwater are essential characters in all six novels. They are the Rirya – a gang of two. Together they get into and out of all sorts of trouble. These books are good for young adults and upwards. There isn’t too much violence and no sex.
The gods of Elan are: Erebus (Father of the gods), Ferrol (Eldest son, god of elves), Drome (Second son, god of dwarves), Maribor (Third son, god of men), Muriel (Only daughter, goddess of nature) and Uberlin (Son of Muriel and Erebus, god of darkness).
The main political parties to be aware of are:
Imperialists: Those wishing to unite mankind under a single leader who is the direct descendant of the demigod Novron.
Nationalists: Those wishing to be ruled by a leader chosen by the people.
Royalists: Those wishing to continue rule by individual, independent monarchs.
THEFT OF SWORDS (2011): THE CROWN CONSPIRACY AND AVEMPARTHA
Hadrian and Royce are stopped by highway robbers, incredibly incompetent ones according to Hadrian and Royce. When the highway robbers discover that they are dealing with the Rirya, panic settles in. Before they go, Hadrian gives the robbers advice on how to rob people properly.
Hadrian and Royce are on their way to a job. That is what they do. They get paid to rob the wealthy for various reasons. The two of them are quite successful at what they do. But things are bound to go wrong when they are asked to undertake a job that leaves them practically no time plan. A sword is placed in the chapel at the Medford castle, and the boys are to remove it to give Count Pickering trouble in a duel. What Hadrian discovers instead is a dead king and he and Royce are accused of the murder.
Hadrian and Royce meet up with the guy who asked them to steal the sword, and you can probably imagine that they weren’t best pleased. But for some strange reason the man walked out of that meeting alive. Royce gets to chat with old friends and the two men are told of a young girl looking for them. They must be in a soft frame of mind, for when they meet this young girl, Thrace, they end up going with her to her village. There, mighty adventure awaits. Ok, that was a bit over-kill.
In the meantime, and you just know there has to be a meantime don’t you?, Arista bounces into her brother King Alric’s meeting misunderstanding the meeting’s intent. She thinks he is about to marry her off, while he is in reality planning on sending her as an ambassador to Dunmore. Arista likes the idea of having something to do, especially as it gets her away from all of the rumors of her witchhood. Along with her normal entourage bishop Saldur comes along with the Pickering brothers. Fanin and Mauvin are going to enter into a contest the church of Novron is holding in Ervanon.
RISE OF EMPIRE (2011): NYPHRON RISING AND THE EMERALD STORM
Young Amilia works as a bullied scullion maid at Aquesta. She is being threatened once again by Edith Mon, the head maid, but saved when two women enter the kitchen. One is clearly some kind of nobility, having both the manners and the clothes for it. The other is an extremely thin and quiet young woman who turns out to be the Empress of Modina. She does not look the part at all.
Through luck Regent Saldur (formerly bishop) appoints Amilia as the Empress’ new secretary. Amilia is terrified as she knows the fate of those who disappoint the regent. But Amilia turns out to have a positive effect on the Empress.
Royce and Hadrian have become royal spies, a job they are really good at. They have found themselves willing to be in the service of the Royal family of Medford, trying to keep the kingdom alive and well in a growing Empire. But keeping Medford on its feet is quite a challenge. Princess Arista has had no luck as an ambassador in finding allies. Every country is too afraid of the new Empire to dare to fight it.
THE EMERALD STORM
Merrick Marius is the world’s best and most cunning assassin. He has been hired to kill someone in Arista’s closest circle. It goes off without a hitch, leaving Arista without an important aid in keeping Ratibor in the hands of the nationalists. But he leaves her with a riddle: “Find the Horn of Gylindora … at Wintertide the Uli Vermar ends … Patriarch … is the same …”. Arista knows the message is extremely important but she hasn’t got a clue how to go about it.
Amilia is still the Empress’ secretary. Modena has been moved to better lodgings, but Amilia still feels as though she is treading water. But fortunately she has acquired her own helper in Nimbus, a landless nobelman. Amilia’s life is on the line every day, as Regent Saldur has made it quite clear what will happen if the Empress embarrasses him in any kind of manner.
Royce and Hadrian go off hunting Merrick. Once Royce and Merrick were good friends, but something happened and Merric now hates Royce. Now he has the chance to play with the Ryria and work against the kingdom of Medford. He tries to lure the two into a trap, quite a cunning one it turns out.
HEIR OF NOVRON (2012): WINTERTIDE AND PERCEPLIQUIS
Stealing is what he has to do to survive. But back luck strikes and he gets yelled at when he gets back to his gang. They decide to try to fleece two newcomers to the city. Royce and Hadrian enter the Imperial Square in a snowstorm. They have come to save Degan Gaunt from execution. The boys discover that the newcomers might be more than they have bargained for, but their meeting actually turns out to be fortuitous for both sides.
Arista is trying to stay sane in her cell. Arista’s attempt to save Degan Gaunt has not been successful. She just knows that she cannot give up trying to escape as the fate of the world rests upon her hands, quite literally.
Amilia is still secretary to the Empress, finding her life full of new experiences. Modena is still quite grief-struck at the challenges that have met her. But something happens to slowly wake her from her dull and grief-struck state. She finds something to live for a meaning to life. Revenge and retribution.
The elves are a hunted people by humans. Persecution is severe by the Church of Nypron. They are thought of as terrible creatures who should be struck down whenever they are seen. Now the elves have come on to human lands once again, striking down humans.
Rather than help the humans in trouble, Guy Luis is chasing a young girl called Mercy. She is the ward of Arcadius and Arcadius is trying to save her. But that job might turn out to be insurmountable.
Refugees are arriving at the Imperial city. All of the North is being overrun and the humans have no idea why. As more and more refugees come into the city Arista decides that the riddle Eshraddon gave her must be solved and as soon as possible. However, she soon discovers, once again, obstacles in her way. Royce and Hadrian end up providing the assistance she needs.
2010 Iceberg Ink Award Best Read (Avempartha)
2010 Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fantasy (The Emerald Storm)
2009 National Indie Book Award Finalist (The Crown Conspiracy)
2008 ReaderViews Annual Literary Award Finalist (The Crown Conspiracy)
Musical writers. What a treat they are. Anne Bishop is one such writer, one who knows how to make all of her chords fit together into a song that satisfies the reader. She manages to portray the darkness in people without stepping into the land of horror. I love dark fantasy when it is performed like this.
Like all of Anne Bishop’s stories, Ephemera is character driven. Generally two or three of them are three-dimensional, while the rest end up complementing the main characters. Ephemera comes from an idea of our outer world reflecting our inner one. What if that were literal? Playing with that idea brought about the Ephemera world (Reading Cafe interview). As we discover in reading these books, the world of Ephemera is ephemeral (transitory). One can never know where one ends up, seeing as one’s heart shows the way.
“Long ago, in a time that has faded from memory, a mother’s tears forged the bridge that, ever after, connected the power of the living, ever-changing world to the human heart. – Myth”
Sebastian is a love story, but more than that it is a story about the choices we make. Do we dare to follow our dreams, or will we make “safe” choices? In the end it might not really matter, because the choices we make could very well all be the ones we really want.
Sebastian is an incubus, an incubus who has begun longing for something more than the life he is living right now in the Den of Iniquity. The Den of Iniquity is a place of ever-lasting carnival, a place where people come to fulfill those dark desires they have.
You can relax if you are worried that we are being cast into a place where the sex and violence is explicit. While the Den of Iniquity might well be a place where that is the case, Anne Bishop has been kind enough to keep us as readers away from the details.
Anyways, back to Sebastian. The Den of Iniquity has been his home since he was about 15. His past was not a good one with a succubus mother and wizard father. Sebastian’s mother left early on and his father left Sebastian’s care to others, people who were afraid of incubi. But Sebastian has turned out pretty well, thanks to Nadia, Belladonna and Lee (adoptive family). They have shown him that there is sunshine in a person. Now he wants someone to love.
“Heart’s hope lies with Belladonna.”
The Eater of the World is once more loose in Ephemera, free to wreak havoc where it sees fit. Dreams are invaded, monsters set free and lives are becoming darker due to its influence.
The only hope lies with Belladonna. Glorianna Belladonna is of the old blood, the blood of the Guides and Guardians. Her heritage is one of light and darkness. Only through the combination of the two is there a possibility of winning.
Unfortunately, Belladonna and Lee do not have all of the answers to her search for a solution to the Eater. She sends out a Heart’s Wish to Ephemera with the hope that someone will come with what she needs to save Ephemera.
In a sense that says it all. What price are we willing to pay to save the ones we love? I have no idea myself. In the world of fantasy people are willing to go to extremes to save the world and not just those close to themselves. Sometimes the price could end up being horrendous.
BRIDGE OF DREAMS (2012)
Anne Bishop pulls it off again. This time we get to hear more about Lee.
Ever since Glorianna Belladonna became Belladonna in every sense of the word, Lee has been frustrated, hurt and angry. Part of his anger is at Glorianna for placing herself in this position and for not going back to how she was previously. Another part of his anger is toward Michael, the Magician, for giving Belladonna the chance to make her choice, and for stopping him when Lee wanted to jump in and save her. Quite a bit of his hurt is toward the relationship that has developed between Michael, Glorianna and Sebastian. Why was Sebastian the one to call Belladonna back and not Lee? It seems unfair. Lee feels unwanted, and unable to come to terms with the way things have turned out.
When he stumbles upon wizards trying to invade one of Belladonna’s landscapes, Lee uses a one-shot bridge taking the wizards with him. He ends up in a city called Vision having to endure torture and the insidious whispering of the wizards.
Danyal, the Shaman, is sent to Vision to figure out what needs to be done to save the city from those places that no Shaman is able to see any longer. Shamen are like the Landscapers in that they take care of their landscapes. But unlike Landscapers they do not seem to have access to Bridges. Upon meeting up with other ways of doing things, Danyal is about to have his beliefs about the world challenged.
So, what can I say about Bridge of Dreams? I liked it. I like Anne Bishop’s version of the darkness that lives in all of us. Our shadows balance out the light in us. When we accept both sides of ourselves our potential becomes greater. All three books in the Ephemera series (trilogy?) follow the pattern of Anne Bishop’s other novels. I guess most authors have a unique style of writing (much like musicians), and sometimes that style works. In Bishop’s case I find myself embracing and enjoying her characters. Getting people to care about the characters in a novel seems to be what being an author should be about.