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.
Alien in the Family (Alien Series #5), by Gini Koch
It’s easy to find vampires, werewolves, and immortals fighting bad guys and winning the hearts of women but aliens have so far been underrepresented in Urban Fantasy. I love Urban Fantasy and aliens would be a hard sell to me. Luckily, some amazing covers got me to pick up the first Katherine “Kitty” Katt book Touched by an Alien and I quickly had a new favorite supernatural.
Kitty was a regular—albeit geeky—marketing manager finishing up jury duty when she walked right into what she thought was a domestic dispute. Rather quickly things start getting weird and she ends up killing an alien with her pen. She’s swept away by gorgeous men in Armani suits and finds herself in a world her conspiracy-loving best friend has been insisting exists for years. Kitty finds out there are aliens, they are on Earth, and while some of them are good guys, some of them are horrible monsters.
This is a really fun series. Kitty speaks her mind and has a great sense of humor. She adapts to the weirdness she finds herself in really well thanks to years spent reading superhero comics and realizing her best guy friend was right on the money with his conspiracy theories. Despite being surrounded by aliens with super speed, strength, and powers she holds her own in a fight and her quick-thinking often saves the day.
If you’re in the mood for something fun with romance (it gets steamy) and a good dose of geekiness (and Aerosmith), try Touched by an Alien. This is one of those rare series where character relationships develop and there aren’t any love triangle hang-ups. Through the five books a large blended family starts and gets stronger. The series reminds me a lot of J. D. Robb’s In Death books because of the strength of the relationships and the stable couple at the center. I’m hoping the Alien series is around for just as long as Robb’s.
Alien Diplomacy puts the main characters in a new setting with new challenges. This time they don’t have to save the world and instead of being relieved, everyone is having trouble fitting in and dealing with feeling useless. But they’re ready for it when the action starts up. Kitty prefers getting kidnapped and fighting to sitting through classes on diplomacy but she makes some new friends and allies that help ease her transition. You’d think action hero main characters being taken off active duty would make a book boring and you’d be totally wrong. This crew doesn’t do boring. The changes in setting and career work out in the end because of the adaptability of Kitty and her family. By now, everyone knows that Kitty will never be far from trouble. But unlike other heroines she can handle it and learn from it. The enemies may be ruthless and the aliens and company don’t know how large the influence the not-so-lovable aliens have but they’re prepared to stop them and save the day and the world.
Ruby Red, by Kerstin Gier
First published in Germany in 2009, this is the first book in a time travel trilogy. Gwyneth, 16, is a bit of a klutz. But this time, her dizzy spells mean her world is about to change, and that she is the twelfth in a circle of time travelers, not her cousin and classmate Charlotte. Gwen meets an 18th century Count, her great-great grandmother, and a missing cousin, all in the company of 18-year-old Gideon, a more experienced time traveler. Ugly school uniforms, a best friend who researches time travel and history while Gwen sleeps, a mother who’s too busy to listen or explain, gorgeous historical costumes, and a variety of London settings make for a book that’s easy to like. Suspense, humor, adventure, and some romance will have you looking forward to translations of Sapphire Blue and Emerald Green.
Ghost Story, by Jim Butcher
Harry was dead, to begin with. Like Jacob Marley in The Christmas Carol, Harry is sent back to earth as a ghost, to solve his own murder, and because his friends are in danger. Six months ago, Harry was last seen near an island in Lake Michigan, but his body and murderer were never found. Harry, a wizard, protected Chicago, and things have gone downhill since his death. Karrin Murphy, former police officer, is even working with gangster Marcone. Harry’s apprentice Molly may be the vengeful Rag Lady, and it’s still snowing in May. Something is very wrong. While trying to learn the rules and tricks of being a ghost, Harry befriends Sir Stuart, the ghost of an 18th century marine, and Fitz, a young gang member who can hear his voice. Harry’s cat, Mister, ectomancer Mortimer, Bob the skull, and Molly can see Harry’s ghost, but everyone else is reluctant to believe it’s really him. We learn the power of memories to a ghost, retrace part of Harry’s childhood, and relive his anguish at the death of Susan, the mother of his daughter Maggie. Molly, Mortimer, and Dr. Butters have hidden depths, his fairy godmother and an archangel have unexpected advice, and the adventure has plenty of twists and turns. There’s even some humor. This is an excellent entry in the urban fantasy series that starts with Storm Front. If you enjoy audiobooks, John Glover narrates this book very well.
Echoes of Betrayal: Paladin’s Legacy, by Elizabeth Moon
Elizabeth Moon is an award-winning, bestselling author of fantasy and science fiction, but I find that many readers are unfamiliar with her work. I’ve read all of her books, and really enjoy her memorable fantasy novels. Echoes of Betrayal is her third in a new series of books set in Tsaia and Lyonya. They follow an older book, The Deed of Paksenarrion, originally published as a trilogy beginning with Sheepfarmer’s Daughter. Magic, politics, betrayal, adventure, romance, and military strategy are all major themes in her work. Since she writes in the Tolkien epic fantasy tradition, her world may seem familiar, with elves, gnomes, thieves, heroes, and rarely, dragons. Her current series begins with Oath of Fealty, followed by Kings of the North. Paladin Paksenarrion’s main quest was to find the rightful king of half-elven Lyonya. When it turned out to be her former commander, Duke Kieri Phelan, everyone was astonished. Two of his former captains became Count Arcolin and Duke Verrakai.
King Kieri co-rules Lyonya with his elf grandmother, the Lady of the forest. She keeps disappearing at inconvenient times, and is holding back vital information. As Kieri asks his squire Arian to marry him and they prepare for their engagement and wedding ceremonies, his human ancestors begin speaking to both of them, predicting trouble. Estil and Aliam Halveric, old friends of Kieri, play welcome larger roles in this book and in Kings of the North, especially when a poisoner is suspected.
Dorrin, Duke Verrakai, is Constable of the neighboring kingdom of Tsaia, which is unusual because she is a female duke, a mage lord, and one of the otherwise disgraced Verrakaien. When two of her squires run into danger, her reputation suffers. Squire Beclan, cousin of the young king of Tsaia, unwisely leads his squad into a trap and falls under grave suspicion when he is the only survivor.
Two of Arcolin’s captains, Selfer and Burek, wintering in the south, have trouble with a new captain, and are unexpectedly aided by Arvid Semminson, a member of the Thieves’ Guild. Arvid’s life is being slowly changed after contact with Paksenarrion and with a gnome who owes him a debt. Blind Sergeant Stammel has a choice to make, and a dragon comes into play.
Clearly another book or two will follow, which will be welcomed by her many readers. I think readers of Tamora Pierce, Tanya Huff, and David Weber will enjoy her books; I certainly do. They’re also very good as audiobooks.
The Alloy of Law, by Brandon Sanderson
This is not the usual lengthy fantasy novel readers have come to expect from Brandon Sanderson. It’s much shorter, faster-paced, and has more humor. The Alloy of Law is as much a western as a fantasy novel. While part of his Mistborn series, it’s set 300 years later, with all new characters. Waxillium and Wayne fight crime in the Roughs, aided by their magical allomantic and feruchemical powers. Wayne can create a slow time bubble and heals well, while Wax can push on steel and make himself lighter or heavier, moving like a superhero. After a tragedy, Wax must move to the family mansion in the city of Elendel, become Lord Waxillium Ladrian, and take over the family business. He also needs to start a family, and meets with Lady Steris and her father, Lord Harms, to discuss a proposal for courtship and possible marriage. Their first date, where they are joined by Steris’ cousin Marasi, a student of criminal justice, is at a wedding banquet. Their waiter turns out to be Wayne, a master of disguise. When thieves break into the banquet hall, open fire, and kidnap a lady, Wax and Wayne are back in the crime-fighting business, aided by Marasi. Recent mysterious railcar thefts and kidnapping of ladies with allomantic or feruchemical powers are probably connected, and they suspect their former colleague Miles, who is practically impossible to kill, of turning villain.
A fun read, and a nice change of pace. I read the book, but the audio version is also getting great reviews.