Review: Street Magicks

Posted on June 26th, 2016 @ 18:24
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Street MagicksStreet Magicks by Paula Guran

My rating:

Blurb:

Streets are more than thoroughfares. Cobblestone or concrete, state of mind or situation streets are catalysts for culture; sources of knowledge and connection, invisible routes to hidden levels of influence. In worlds where magic is real, streets can be full of dangerous shadows or paths to salvation. Wizards walk such streets, monsters lurk in their alleys, demons prowl or strut, doors open to places full of delightful enchantment or seething with sorcery, and truly dead ends abound. This selection of stories some tales may be rediscoveries, others never encountered on your fictional map will take you for a wild ride through many realms of imagination.”

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

In the past, I read a couple of other anthologies edited by Paula Guran, and I remember liking them overall, due to the choice of stories: they may not all have been breathtaking, but they also weren abysmal, and as far as anthologies go, I think I do tend to appreciate that a little more than reading excellency pitched against really bad writing.

The stories here deal mostly with magical happenings and encountering in cities–a theme I especially like. Most are modern fantasy, but more traditional fantasy also has its place here.

“Freewheeling” – 2/5
A young woman tries to help a kid whose very special take on life may be madness… or a real touch of magic? And the question is, will mundane life keep interfering until something tragic happens, or will magic happen instead?
Not my favourite. I could see the ending coming almost from the beginning.

“A Year and a Day in Old Theradane” – 4/5
A band of retired thieves find themselves back in their ¨line of duty¨ to perform the theft of their lives: steal a whole street. Humour, magic, blackmail, backstabbing, an urban setting, and a cast of mostly women (and an automaton) whoŕe not afraid to be who they are. Whatś not to like?

“Caligo Lane” – 3/5
Read in another anthology “The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Nine” so I guess the novelty wasn exactly there. Still, it remains a touching story, of a mage who uses maps to bend space and save people trapped in parts of the world where every other means of escape have failed.

“Socks” – 3/5
A Bordertown story. I don´t know that setting, except through another story in another anthology; however, I still think it´s not such a problem, as mood and theme are easy enough to ¨get¨ even without knowing the whole context. Here, Socks, a young girl, is taken in by a family of strays. Soon after, Perdita joins the crew, Perdita whose mysterious mother taught her many a tale…
Interesting, but I found myself wanting to know more about Socks at the end–it was never clear whereas the whole thing about her feet was merely illness, or a symptom of something else. I kept expecting that something else to happen, and… nothing?

“Painted Birds and Shivered Bones” – 3.5/5
A poetic tale of a man cursed to turn into a bird, going through centuries without respite, until a kind of magic apt to break his curse surfaces in the painting of artist Maeve. A bittersweet tale, perhaps a bit too focused at times on the artist-chic cliche? I may be a little jaded with that one at the moment — it itself, it doesn´t make the story bad, at any rate.

“The Goldfish Pond and Other Stories” – 2/5
Originally read in “Smoke and Mirrors”. This one relates a writer’s experience as he flies to Hollywood, where his novel is to be adapted into a movie, only to see said novel stripped to the bone and reworked every time. A tale of being dispossessed on one’s soul, maybe, and of having to let go. Or perhaps a tale of former Holywood legends fallen back into the mist of times, unremembered by all but the humblest?
Not my favourite Gaiman story, to be honest. It’s a bit… bland compared to some of his other works.

“One-Eyed Jack and the Suicide King” – 2/5
A good beginning, of a struggle between spirits/local gods fighting for their turf. The story was wanting, though, as it feels like it should be expanded into something more. It’s a beginning, indeed, and not a full-fledged plot.

“Street Worm” – 4/5
Rather scary when you come to think of it. A teenage girl runs away from a privileged home, for her parents believe her going on slightly crazy and want to send her to a shrink (probably not for all the good reasons either — a family has standards to uphold within the community…). But is this girl just mad, or does she really see things, things of another kind, worms danglings from buildings like a threat lingering above the city? And the man who tells her sheś magic, is he meaning well, or is he just a creep?
I wanted a bit more at the end, to be honest. Like a lot of stories, this one feels like unfinished business in some parts. Still, a good read.

“A Water Matter” – 2/5
The Duke is dead, may he stay dead! Only a mysterious and potentially malevolent shaman wants the power released upon that death, so the Dancing Mistress, a shapeshifter (…I think?) takes it upon herself to prevent this from happening.
More than with the Bordertown stories, I think I was missing something here—the action is set in a world with its own backstory, and I constantly felt it was part of something bigger, something that deserved more. The actual plot didn’t impact me as it could have, had things been otherwise.

“Last Call” – 3/5
A Harry Dresden short story. On principle, I tend to like those, because I’m fond of the world and character Butcher developed (they’re part of the works I’d quote first if someone asked me for examples of “urban fantasy”). On the other hand, this one is a bit spoilerish if you haven’t read at least the first 8-9 books of the series…

“Bridle” – 1/5
A kelpie story, with a dark fantasy approach that had its poetic moments. Still, it didn’t grab me much.

“The Last Triangle” – 4,5/5
A junkie finds shelter at an old woman’s who happens to realise a dark magic ritual is about to take place. Together, they do everything they can to stop it, as well as the person casting it.
This one had the kind of plot and ending I’d deem as “definite”. You can see it going somewhere, with a beginning, middle and end, and even though the latter is “open” as far as the main character’s future is concerned, it nonetheless brings resolution to the “dark spell” plot.

“Working for the God of the Love of Money” – 2/5
Again, an interesting beginning, but the end was very abrupt (in an expected-yet-not-waited-for way).

“Hello, Moto” – 4/5
Three witches with enchanted wigs let themselves be devoured by their magic… or not? For Rain, taking upon herself once again to mix up magic with technology, wants to stop her “sisters” gone on a rampage of take-never-give in Lagos. One may wonder, though, if using precisely what went wrong the first time can right that wrong… or not.
Original and entertaining. I just regret the ending, again too abrupt, with no true resolution per se. “Leaving things to the reader’s imagination” can only go so far…

“The Spirit of the Thing: A Nightside Story” – 3/5
A detective doing his job, a shady bar with an even shadier owner, and angry water spirit, the ghost of a murdered young woman, and a twist to try and make things right no matter what.

“A Night in Electric Squidland” – 3/5
Paranormal investigators working on a murder case end up in a night club whose practices may not be what they seem.
I liked the atmosphere (the dark and somewhat perverted rituals going on, while the club also offered “nicer” attractions like a stage magician). I didn’t connect much with the characters, though.

“Speechless in Seattle” – 3/5
A.k.a “pay attention to the exact wording of your spells”, which is something a lot of mages should do. ;)
A cute story, with likeable characters. Only, as usual in such cases, the grounds for budding romance were kind of wasted on me.

“Palimpsest” – 2/5
Pretty, I guess, and evoking strange places in a strange city whose elusive map can only be found in some very special places. However, it was rather confusing, without much of a plot to speak of.

“Ash” – 4/5
Laid off from his job with minimum benefits, a man decides to commit a robbery, but one decision made while running away from the security guard has dire consequences.
A story of guilt and revenge, of a dying curse, of the city turning stranger and stranger, darker and darker, until it closes over you and never lets you go.

“In Our Block” – 3/5
Or “two blokes find themselves wondering why the area they’re in is so intriguing”, full of strange little shops and sellers/peddlers of unusual talents, like the typewriter girl. Although it was more a slice-of-life story than one with a real plot, it was enough for me, for once.

Conclusion: 3/5. I kind of expected this, as a lot of stories were of the “I liked” kind but not “great/I loved it”. Still, more good than bad in there. Though not a “to buy” recommendation, maybe a “borrow it” one?

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Review: Sleeping Giants

Posted on June 20th, 2016 @ 21:23
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Sleeping Giants (Themis Files, #1)Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

My rating:

Blurb:

A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.

But some can never stop searching for answers.

Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

This novel follows a close-knit team of scientists and military personnel gathered in the search for body parts: giant body parts, from a satue whose pieces were scattered throughout the world. What is that statue? Who built it? And is it merely a work of art, or something more, something darker?

The story is told through interviews and excerpts from reports and diaries (mostly interviews, led by an interviewer whose identity is never known). I tend to like that kind of format—not all the time, but now and then, it’s a nice change from more traditional stotytelling. Original? Perhaps, perhaps not. I just happen to like that kind of change. I got engrossed fairly quickly in the plot at first, wondering how the characters would meet, interact, how long they’d take to gather all the parts (and whether they’d succeed), etc.

Unfortunately, while the original plot was still interesting, I couldn’t connect with the characters. They remained far away, distant, a bit cliché (the defiant pilot who keeps sassing the interviewer, the scientist everybody loves, the mysterious interviewer with an agenda of his own…). Oddly enough, perhaps the interviewer was the less unbearable, because at least I was expecting him to remain some kind of cold figure shrouded in mysttery. Except when he talked to the old guy in the restaurant. That broke his image, and it never recovered.

I don’t think it was the interview format per se, but the pacing between each of those: it was too fast, events happened too quickly (and drastic events at that, with dire consequences), and they tended to feel… disconnected. Hardly had I started to get to know a character and their interactions with other people, than something would happen, and I’d be all “wait, what, but… why?” I suppose it works in some stories; not in this one. (It may, however, be more appropriate in a movie, where body language could help conveying all that wasn’t described through the interviews and reports. I’m not sure. In any case… As much as I’m easily bored with long descriptions, here there weren’t enough descriptions, both of places and of actions—if that makes sense.)

This quick succession of events also made some decisions difficult to understand, like the sinking of some important item, only to have people work on the technology to retrieve it a couple of years later. I get the reasoning behind it (matters of geopolitics and all that), yet it still was rather counterproductive, as if the people involved didn’t have any grasp on international politics. Not to mention the almost caricatural depiction of other countries (Russia and North Korea, for instance, or, of course, the USA being the country where all started, and that kept intervening even when supposedly out of it).

A tiny 1.5/2 stars. In the end, even though it was a fast read, it was rather boring for most of the story. Too bad for the giant alien robot who was given the shaft here…

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Review: Famine

Posted on June 19th, 2016 @ 19:40
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Famine: Book One of The ApocalypticsFamine: Book One of The Apocalyptics by Monica Enderle Pierce

My rating:

Blurb:

The fate of every soul rests upon his shoulders. His fate rests in the hands of a troubled, young girl.

It’s 1895—the cusp of the Victorian and Edwardian eras—and Bartholomew Pelletier is a gentleman and a warrior. For fifteen centuries he’s endured the depraved appetite of Famine—one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse—as she’s consumed his strength and sought to unite with her fellow Horsemen. But now Bartholomew’s chance to imprison her has appeared…in the form of his young ward Matilde.

Chosen to wield the immeasurable power of the Catcher—the one entity that can capture the escaped Horsemen—Matilde is a distrustful child from an abusive and impoverished home. She must be hidden from Famine as she grows strong, learns to fight, and reaches adulthood. But Bartholomew faces a terrible act: For Matilde to become the immortal Catcher, he must gain her trust, and then he must end her life.

By any means necessary, Bartholomew intends to conquer his enemy, but is he willing to sacrifice the one person he loves in order to save mankind?

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

I cannot say I didn’t like this novel, as its main characters in general were sympathetic enough, but for most of it I also felt like something was missing—some action, or a more regular pacing, maybe? Overall it seemed poised between urgency and a tendency to drag, which completely went against the former. In that regard, I couldn’t really be invested

Interesting ideas from the start: the Four Horsemen are dark souls who mustn’t escape the “zone” where they’re imprisoned. One of them, Famine, is already out, and intendes on freeing her siblings. The only ones who can oppose this are a triat composed of the Catcher, the Guardian and the Beacon. Unfortunately, the Catcher is a bit diminished, the Beacon is gone, and the Guardian cannot fully assume his role until the Catcher is made anew. In the meantime, Famine and the corpses serving her are wreaking havoc throughout the world.

So. Interesting, but a bit confusing, too—it took me some time to piece out everything here, partly because some characters, like Bartholomew, assume double roles and are involved in both parties. Even though at some point, things become clearer, at first I wasn’t sure at all what the stakes were exactly. Only when Bartholomew explained them (towards did the end) did it make fully sense.

I also didn’t feel the supposed “urgency” throughout the novel: Famine and her cadavers seemed to find Bartholomew and the others very quickly in the beginning, then lost track… too quickly? And even if letting them go to better trap them afterward, it didn’t make much sense; why not get rid of the enemy, or in this case of Bartholomew’s object of interest (Matilde), as soon as possible? I get the idea beneath, and that the whole arc where Bartholomew sees Matilde grow, and tries to earn her trust, demanded several years to elapse; still, it made the pace too slow in many parts, and the end rushed and unfulfilled in turn.

Side note: The including of French words was definitely odd (we just don’t do that). I know of no French immigrant who will add “oui” and other little words in their sentences when speaking in English—the only words we may add is when we don’t know the English equivalent, and this wouldn’t happen with such simple ones. Same with “chérie”; that’s not a word you’d use to address your ward, rather your wife or a lover (“ma chérie” would be the appropriate phrase here).

Conclusion: Interesting ideas, however the pacing made it hard to focus on the story. 2.5 stars.

Enregistrer

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Review: Riverkeep

Posted on June 15th, 2016 @ 21:51
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RiverkeepRiverkeep by Martin Stewart

My rating:

Blurb:

The Danék is a wild, treacherous river, and the Fobisher family has tended it for generations—clearing it of ice and weed, making sure boats can get through, and fishing corpses from its bleak depths. Wulliam’s father, the current Riverkeep, is proud of this work. Wull dreads it. And in one week, when he comes of age, he will have to take over.

Then the unthinkable happens. While recovering a drowned man, Wull’s father is pulled under—and when he emerges, he is no longer himself. A dark spirit possesses him, devouring him from the inside. In an instant, Wull is Riverkeep. And he must care for his father, too.

When he hears that a cure for his father lurks in the belly of a great sea-dwelling beast known as the mormorach, he embarks on an epic journey down the river that his family has so long protected—but never explored. Along the way, he faces death in any number of ways, meets people and creatures touched by magic and madness and alchemy, and finds courage he never knew he possessed.

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

A coming-of-age adventure in a world that is both threatening and full of wonders, following a boy who embarks on a journey to save his father: after Wulliam witnessed his dad being possessed by a river spirit, he decides to take his only parent to the sea, hunting down a legendary beast whose fluids are rumoured to have many healing properties. And even if it means abandoning his duties as the keeper of the river, Wull feels he doesn’t have a choice: either that, or let his father wither and die.

There were quite a few magical, poetic descriptions and moments in this book, and I never found it hard to picture the characters’ surroundings, or to imagine the mormorach, diving in the dark waters, preying on ships and crews bent on taking it down. Nor was it hard to imagine little Bonn, or Tillinghast’s strange body (bodies?).

However, I was a bit disappointed in the “adventure” itself, for it was rather sluggish in more than one place, and some events and character arcs felt put on a bus after a while. Most of the people Wulliam meets have their quirks and an aura of mystery: from the undertaker to Tillinghast the man who’s not alive, from Mix and her strange tattoos to Remedie cradling her strange baby, from the solitary scientist in the Deadmoor to the silent Mr Bent. The problem is that some of those people were given their own adventure… yet said adventures were never really concluded: only Wull and Tillinghast seem to have an ending of their own (as well as a few other characters, but let’s just say that their ending is a little more, uhm, permanent). As a result, it felt less like an open ending, and more like the author wanted to get to Wulliam’s ending mostly, with his quest being a little… on the side? I may be mistaken, but that’s how I keep on feeling about it now. I still don’t know why Mix doesn’t eat, or what happened to Remedie and Bonn.

Wulliam was also pretty annoying as a character. On the one hand, I could understand his desire to save his Pappa, along with his underlying somewhat selfish reasons (he wants to save him because he loves him, of course, but also because he doesn’t know how to be the Riverkeep in his stead, and wishes for his guidance some more); I could also understand how he’d come to be angry, considering everybody seemed to hitch a ride and not lift a finger to help. On the other hand, well… those characters helped in different ways (Till does pay for the trip, after all, and Mix does have a knack to gather resources unseen), and Wull after a while became more the annoying, tantrum-throwing type than the rightly-annoyed, unfairly-treated one.

Conclusion: ~ 2.5 stars out of 5. I liked the atmosphere, the depiction of the river and of the places travelled in this novel. Nevertheless, the pace was rather uneven, and unless it’s the first book in a series and we’re bound to learn more in a second one, not bringing closure to other characters’ stories made me feel unsatisfied.

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Review: Jane Steele

Posted on June 11th, 2016 @ 19:02
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Jane SteeleJane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

My rating:

Blurb:

Like the heroine of the novel she adores, Jane Steele suffers cruelly at the hands of her aunt and schoolmaster. And like Jane Eyre, they call her wicked – but in her case, she fears the accusation is true. When she flees, she leaves behind the corpses of her tormentors.

A fugitive navigating London’s underbelly, Jane rights wrongs on behalf of the have-nots whilst avoiding the noose. Until an advertisement catches her eye. Her aunt has died and the new master at Highgate House, Mr Thornfield, seeks a governess. Anxious to know if she is Highgate’s true heir, Jane takes the position and is soon caught up in the household’s strange spell. When she falls in love with the mysterious Charles Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him – body, soul and secrets – and what if he discovers her murderous past?

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

I have a weak spot both for retellings and for “Jane Eyre”, so no wonder I’d request this novel. And it turned out to be fairly interesting, although it’s more “inspired by” than an actual “retelling”, and at times my attention waned a little—not sure if it’s because of the book or just me being myself, that is, with the attention span of a dead amoeba. Also, I don’t why, I had forgotten that the novel was set in the 19th century, and was surprised at first that it wasn’t set in some contemporary UK. Dead amoeba, I tell you.

Jane Steele, who incidentally is an avid re-reader of the original “Jane Eyre” story, is, like her heroine, an orphan surrounded with a hostile family that mocks her at best and generally despises her. Her mother being an artist and a laudanum-addict doesn’t exactly help. However, unlike Jane Eyre, Miss Steele early enough takes matters into her own hands by despatching those who are in her way. These aren’t just random murders committed by a psychopath, though, and her victims aren’t exactly goody-two-shoes. Jane is actually trying to protect the people she really loves, not obeying some dark unexplained instincts. And so this brings quite a few questions about whether killing might be seen as “justified” in some cases, or not? After all, so many people kill others in wars, and it’s seen as “justified” and not “murder” because “it’s for your country”… so why wouldn’t “it’s for love” be good enough a reason either?

And there you have it. There are killings in this novel, yet they come second to complex relationships among very different people. Thornfield and his Sikh family. The girls at Lowan School, united in misery through a perverse net of betrayal and friendships disguised as hate (unless it’s the contrary?). Jane and her cousin who could so very well end up raping her. Jane and her mother, and these two and Aunt Patience, because there must be a reason for the latter to despise them so much.

There were a few funny moments, especially when the inspector was concerned—well, I did find them funny, especially with Jane constantly trying to escape him. And I also liked the way assault/rape was handled, as it turns out not so many characters in there blame the lady, and do think instead that, yes, she’s not the one at fault at all.

To be honest, I preferred the first part of the novel, with Jane’s years at school with the other girls. The plot in the second part was nice, but… the pacing and the setting in general were less thrilling (which is too bad, for Sardar and the others provided characters and a setting that screamed “badass”)… not to mention that, in spite of the inclusion of a large cast of Sikh people, in the end what could have broken the typical colonialist/jingoist mould of many Victorian-era stories just didn’t do that. (It’s still about white people finding happiness, and the non-white ones kind of get the shaft.)

As for the romance, of course it was meant to mirror the one in “Jane Eyre”, in a fashion, however I never really felt any chemistry between Jane and Charles: it felt more as if they were destined to end up together because Brontë’s characters did, and not because of their traits as people.

Conclusion: I really liked the beginning, so I’m still giving this book 3 stars. The second half and ending didn’t do much for me, though.

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