Month: October 2014

Ilona Andrews: Magic Burns

A good while back I read the first book, Magic Bites in Andrews’s Kate Daniels series of Magic verb books. I was not too overly impressed, it seemed like just another one of the endless stream of paranormal romance novels flooding the market. However, some friends recently strongly suggested I give the series another try, so I did. The second book in the series, Magic Burns is better, and I enjoyed it a fair bit. It still has a lot of the tropes of the genre and a fair bit of convenient coincidences, and frankly the plot was like something out of a SyFy movie — but for some reason it just worked for me. Perhaps I was in a more receptive mood, perhaps I don’t remember the first book as well, but I’d say that Ms. Andrews has clearly improved as a writer between the first and second installments. The setting is an alternate near future; magic has returned to earth, and magical creatures have reawakened. In some ways the semi-post-apocalyptic setting reminds me of Kim Harrison’s Hollows series, and having a magic-user protagonist only adds to the comparison. Harrison has better secondary characters, but Andrews’s protagonist doesn’t constantly elicit the urge to yell at her. As to the plot, the stakes are high, the action is constant, and overall the read was a good romp that was more enjoyable than it really should’ve been. I’ll likely keep following the series. Three and a half.

Posted by Toivo Voll

Patricia Briggs: Night Broken

I’m a big fan of Patricia Briggs, and I’m willing to buy pretty much anything she’s released because I’ve always enjoyed the read. Her books are entertainment, perhaps not the deepest or best of literature, but fun. The Mercy Thompson series has been one of my favorites in the paranormal or urban fantasy genres, so my expectations were pretty much set for the eight book in the series. Unfortunately Night Broken fell short of my expectations. Mercy is running the show, and everyone else just sort of tags along and has little agency of their own — in that respect it reminded me a little of the McGuire’s October Day series. Not only that, but the pacing and structure of the story was off; the final resolution was almost anticlimactic and then the book just ends. There is also another plot arch with a romantic rival of sorts that I assume will develop over the upcoming releases, but here it’s just set up and then doesn’t do anything. The prose is competent and pleasant to read as always, but the book being largely a one-woman show with a dubious and not entirely satisfying plot left me a bit cold. Two and a half stars.

Posted by Toivo Voll

Rachel Aaron: Nice Dragons Finish Last

This book was another Amazon recommendation. The setting is alternative future urban fantasy: magic has returned to earth, and a lot of mythological creatures have awakened from their slumber and have re-arranged some of our way of life and cities to be more to their liking.

The origin story is a bit weak, and it’s quickly glossed over; otherwise the world seems pretty standard urban fantasy fare with monsters, dragons, fae, vampires, nature spirits and humans working magic. In her other books Ms. Aaron is known for world-building, though, so there may be a bit more to the world than meets the eye.

The protagonist is a young dragon that has been cursed to remain in human form until he can prove himself. This is because he’s a Nice Guy and doesn’t live up to draconic greed and ruthlesness. Luckily he meets a girl that appreciates him for his inner chivalry and things go from there.

The setup sounds cliche-laden and saccharine, and some of the self-pity-parties and teenage romance were over the top. The protagonist is supposedly 24 years old, but his behavior would befit a teenager. I’m hoping that at least some of it is intentional, and there’s more interesting character development to come.

My reason for optimism here is the plot. As it progresses, more and more layers and underpinning machinations are revealed, and I was fairly impressed by the end. The dynamics of the protagonist and his love interest, aside from the Marty-Stuisms, are both fanservice and yet unexpectedly refreshing in that the girl appears to be the more ruthless and morally flexible half of the couple.

The prose is decent, but not excellent or particularly noteworthy, the pacing is good, and the plotting is competent with some nice hints of future things to come. Some of the plot seems like it’s a “starter adventure” to introduce the characters and setting and the actual events are secondary to the ultimate goal, but seeing good intentions and cleverness win out over brute strength is nonetheless pleasing.

In summary, the characters are neat once you get over the excessive timidity of the protagonist, the plot is kind of clever, and there is plenty to hint at interesting future installments. Here the sum is greater than its parts, and I enjoyed the read a fair bit and will pick up the next volume once it’s out.

Three out of five.

Posted by Toivo Voll