Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal
Jane and David Vincent have been travelling with Jane’s family but now set out on their own to visit Venice and Murano in an alternate version of the early 1800s where magic works. The Vincents work with light and sound to create moving scenes called glamurals. Their ship is attacked by pirates, and David is injured. They arrive on the island of Murano with no money, documents, or luggage, and David’s friend Lord Byron is away. A banker from the ship offers them rooms and arranges for a line of credit while they look for glassmakers who will work with them to create glass globes with magic. When it appears that the banker has swindled them, the Vincents work with a puppeteer and a convent to unmask the criminals, clear their names, and get their papers back. Magic, Lord Byron, and a gondola race are all included, along with some romance. Their previous adventures are related in Without a Summer.
Battle Magic by Tamora Pierce
Tamora Pierce is a young adult fantasy writer known for her strong, usually female characters. This book follows after Street Magic, and is set before Melting Stones in the Circle Opens series. Briar Moss is a young plant mage, traveling with his mentor Rosethorn and his student Evvy, a stone mage. They are welcome in Gyongxe, which feels like a version of Tibet, where they meet the young god-king, and travel in the mountains. Rosethorn is invited to visit the Emperor Weishu in neighboring Yanjing, and tour his magnificent gardens. They quickly learn that he is cruel and greedy, and rescue one of his captives. Traveling with a caravan out of Yanjing, they learn that Gyongxe is to be attacked by Weishu’s armies, and feel compelled to help. Along the way, Evvy is captured and takes refuge with Luvo, a mountain deity. Rosethorn and Briar Moss are startled by small gods coming to life to protect their mountain home, and they learn how awful war can be, especially when they have to choose between using their powers to heal or helping win the battle. This is a darker book then many by the author, and I would suggest starting with Street Magic, or even earlier with the Magic Circle books.
Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal
After the volcano on Mount Tambora in Indonesia erupted in 1815, the ash spread around the globe, blocking sunlight. England really didn’t have a summer in 1816, although the reason for the cold weather wasn’t widely known. During our pleasantly warm (and occasionally really hot) summer, I enjoy books set in cooler times and places. This is a fantasy novel, but may appeal to readers who are Anglophiles or enjoy witty Regency romances. Jane and her husband, Sir David Vincent, receive a commission to work their magic as glamourists in London, and create a glamural scene in Stratton House. They work with light and color, creating wondrous illusions that are all the rage in London. Jane’s younger sister, Melody, has also come to London, where Jane hopes she will find a suitable husband. There is considerable unrest in London; the prospect of crop failure due to the cold temperatures have caused increased unemployment and persecution of coldmongers, who magically help with refrigeration, but could not be responsible for the weather. The Vincents are surprised to encounter David’s estranged noble family, especially his powerful father. This is the third book about the Vincents, following the award-winning Shades of Milk and Honey and Glamour in Glass. The Chicago author also narrates audiobooks and is a professional puppeteer.
I look forward to her next book with keen interest. More about the volcanic explosion and its effect on the weather can be found in William Klingaman’s new book, The Year Without Summer : 1816 and the Volcano that Darkened the World and Changed History.
The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
I had so much fun reading this book. It’s a fantasy novel written for teens, set in an alternate America called the United Isles, as all the states and provinces are surrounded by water. Joel and Melody, both 16, are students at Armedius Academy in New Britannia (Virginia). Joel is fascinated by Rithmatic lore, but when his father, a chalkmaker died from a springwork train accident, Joel lost his best chance to be chosen as a Rithmatist. Rithmatists are trained at several academies in drawing geometric diagrams and figures in chalk, and fight two-dimensional duels in chalk when their drawings come to life. Melody comes from a family of talented Rithmatists, but must spend summer school tracing geometric diagrams for Professor Fitch. Joel gets assigned as the Professor’s research assistant, and both teens get involved in an investigation when Rithmatic students are kidnapped off campus. Is there a rogue Rithmatist, or have wild chalklings escaped the plains of Nebrask where Rithmatic graduates spend several years dueling them and protecting the rest of the United Isles?
Read and find out. A sequel is planned, now that the author has finished completing Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time saga. This is a refreshing, unpredictable change of pace from doorstop size fantasy books, and I’m looking forward to reading the next adventure of the Rithmatists. Discover more on the author’s website.
Hunted by Kevin Hearne
I’m a series reader and over the years I’ve dropped more series than I’ve kept up with. They become too repetitive, or the characters simply never change and keep making bad decisions and never seem to learn, or sometimes the world conspires against the main character who is miserable but fighting on, or every book is a new villain that has to be different but somehow is just like all the ones before it.
I thought the Iron Druid Chronicles was headed that way. It was Atticus–the main character who’s a 2,000 year old Druid and the last of his kind–who wasn’t changing. He adapts to fit in with the culture he’s in but he’d done it too well and sounded like a kid who spent all his time on the internet and thought LOLcats was the height of human achievement. Internet references worked to show how Atticus keeps up with the times but eventually they distracted me from the story and had me hoping some thunder god would zap Atticus into silence for a while. But while he was making annoying jokes, Atticus was also angering various gods and now he’s dealing with the consequences so he’s let up on the dorky jokes. Some of the gods are so sick of him that they cut him off from routes that would let him travel between planes and around the Earth and they started hunting him. In the last book, he had to find a way to bind his apprentice Granuaile to the Earth to complete her training to become a Druid. Now she’s fully bound and they’re on the run.
Previous events triggered the beginning of Ragnarok and removed some of the safeguards that would have prevented it. As a Druid–a protector of the Earth–Atticus has to take action. Part of that is convincing gods from outside the Norse pantheon that Ragnarok is bad for them, too, and they should stop messing with a lowly Druid and work together to save the Earth. He has some successes and for once doesn’t seem to have done lasting harm. After Hunted, I’m back to looking forward to the next book and seeing how well Atticus deals with being known to so many powerful figures and what his role in the world will become.
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
This is a supernatural thriller, and quite fun to read. It’s the first in a series about the Checquy, a secret British spy agency staffed with people with a variety of supernatural abilities or unique physical characteristics, along with normal assistants. The opening sets the tone: Myfanwy Thomas (she pronounces it Miffany) finds herself in a park in London, surrounded by bodies wearing latex gloves, and with no memory. Her former self has left her a letter, however, giving her two options and a safe hideout. Clearly there is a traitor within the Checquy agency. The reader and Myfanwy learn that she is an executive with a desk job at the agency, but is occasionally called on to oversee the Checquy response to supernatural emergencies, such as a building covered with purple fungus that has swallowed the first team sent to investigate screams from inside. Her normal assistant Ingrid is invaluable as Myfanwy tries to get up to speed on her job while looking for the traitor. Lots of action and suspense, along with humor, plenty of eccentric characters, and unique settings including a boarding school for supernaturally gifted children make for a page-turner. I can’t wait to see what O’Malley, a first novelist from Australia, comes up with next. For more information and a video book trailer, visit his website.
Much Ado about Magic by Shanna Swendson
Texan Katie Chandler is normal. She has no magical talents, but is immune to magic and can see through illusions. She returns to MSI in New York City to work in marketing. MSI is run by Merlin. Yes, that Merlin. Her boyfriend, Owen Chandler, is a sweet, shy, powerful wizard. A rival accuses Owen, who’s adopted, of having evil wizards as parents, and of causing the havoc in Manhattan that he stops. There’s a lot of humor with flying gargoyles, a clumsy fairy, magical illusions and spells, and her department’s constant partying while Katie’s trying to plan a big event in Central Park. Her roommates know her secret, and try to help when Owen and MSI are in trouble. Not your typical urban fantasy, it’s more of a romantic comedy with fantasy elements. This is book five in the series that begins with Enchanted, Inc. Read more about Katie on the author’s website. Book 6 is now available, and we own the whole series in print, and as e-books on Media on Demand.
The Silvered by Tanya Huff
Mirian Maylin is a low-level mage who’s just finished her first year at university. Her mother would love her to attract the attention of one of the young men in the Pack, and lingers near them at the theater. Their small country, Aydori, is threatened by the tech-loving Empire, and some of the werewolves in the Pack serve as officers in Aydori’s army, protecting their border. When families flee the capitol on foot and in carriages, the Empire sets a trap after a soothsayer’s prediction. Young Pack member Tomas survives an attack by a powerful new explosive that kills his brother and best friend, both army officers. He encounters Mirian in the woods after she tries to help some more powerful mages who have been kidnapped. They travel together, with the usual humorous problem of how Tomas can keep his clothes handy when a wolf. The Pack can change at will, and heal when they do, unless struck by a silver weapon. Mirian grows in her magical abilities under pressure, but at a cost. Captain Reiter, their enemy, becomes concerned about the emperor’s plans for the captured mages and his disregard for the Pack. With a setting resembling 19th century Europe, this fantasy has plenty of adventure, some romance, and a little humor to balance the danger. I don’t read many books with werewolves, but I’ve read some of the author’s other books. She writes contemporary or urban fantasy with magic, selkies, dragons, or vampires, traditional fantasy, and military science fiction. A talented writer, but one many fantasy and science fiction fans haven’t read.
The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks
Have you ever wondered if it’s worth your time to pick up an epic fantasy novel? If you’ve read other books by the author, you already know the answer. In my case, if the author is Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, or Elizabeth Moon the answer is definitely yes. But what if you’ve never read the author before? I decided to check out Terry Brooks. He’s been a bestselling fantasy author since 1977, but he’s new to me. I read the Sword of Shannara, which is his first novel, and begins over 20 books set in the Four Lands, in the far future. To begin with, if you’ve ever read The Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, you’re in familiar territory. The basic setup is very similar, as are the broad outlines of the story. Some readers call it derivative, others an homage to Tolkien.
Flick Ohlmsford and his adoptive brother Shea, who is half-elven, are sent on a quest by the mysterious Allanon. They flee a Skull Bearer and travel to the city of Leah, to meet Menion Leah, Shea’s friend. They are to meet Balinor and go on a quest to find the sword of Shannara, which only Shea can now wield in an attempt to finally defeat the Wizard Lord. Elves, a dwarf, a thief, and a rock troll accompany the companions along their journey. A beautiful woman is rescued, by accident. Flick becomes a hero by rescuing a king from the gnomes. The companions are bruised and weary so often, it’s amazing they can continue. But about a third of the way through the book, the pace picks up and you forget about the similarities to Tolkien. When the history lessons are over and the companions are separated, the book really takes off and the characters seem more real. This book was an immediate bestseller, and was worth my time to read, all 726 pages of it. I’d like to know what happens next, so I might read the next book, The Elfstones of Shannara.
The Iron Druid Series by Kevin Hearne
A series about the last living Druid who has spent most of his 2,000 years avoiding an angered god by moving constantly and leaving behind everyone he cares about other than a goddess of death may sound dark and gritty. But when the Druid is Atticus O’Sullivan, you’re in for a lot of action, laughs, and tugging of heart-strings. Hounded introduces Atticus and his current life in Tempe, Arizona. He owns a rare book store where he also serves up specialty tea blends to his customers. They don’t know that there’s a bit of magic that makes his Mobili-tea really help with their aches and pains and they certainly don’t know that Immortali-tea has kept him looking like a man in his early 20s for 2,000 years. He’s also been giving the tea to his Irish wolfhound Oberon who he shares a telepathic bond with thanks to Druid bindings. Oberon is a riot and he helps Atticus stay upbeat as well as stay alive in fights. Atticus has learned to treasure life’s small pleasures and he truly cares for the people close to him while he can be with them. He mows the lawn of the widow MacDonagh and looks after her like a dedicated son and her spirit and acceptance when she finds out he’s not just a kind young man help keep him going.
Atticus’ troubles stem from a long-ago conflict with the Celtic god of love, Aenghus Og. He moves around to avoid the god and to keep his friends from being caught in the crossfire. Atticus would rather avoid a fight and until the events in Hounded he’s mostly been able to do that. In his travels, he’s learned more about Druidic magic and is able to bind cold iron—which repels most magic—to his aura and has crafted a number of charms to help him out of tight spots. But eventually his connections to allies and friends lead him down a road to a confrontation with Aenghus Og as well as witches, werewolves, and Norse gods. The Iron Druid has to deal with no longer being unknown, the eventuality of leaving a town (and his friends and store) that he loves, and the possibility of taking on an apprentice and doubling the number of Druids in the world.
The series started out as three books released in three months and has happily been picked up for at least another three. I really enjoyed how Kevin Hearne brought so many mythologies into modern times. Atticus doesn’t often come off as an old man, but more frequently as the 20something he looks like. As the series goes on, Atticus stops being so flippant and we start to see him acknowledge what he’s lost over the years and how he has to cope to move on. Those dark times are needed to show he isn’t totally shallow but they’re thankfully rare. It leaves more time for action, silliness, and for supporting characters to shine.
If you’re a fan of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, or urban fantasy at all, you’ll want to give the Iron Druid series a try.