Patricia Briggs, Smoke Bitten (2020)

Author: Patricia Briggs

Title: Smoke Bitten

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 352

Series: Mercy Thompson #12

Were I in the habit of creating titles for my reviews, this one would be Smoke Bitter or The Too Long Goodbye with Mercy Thompson. At 12 books the series has long outlived its merit – at least for me. With the benefit of hindsight, it is now clear to me that Briggs’s flagship series should have ended with Fire Touched, book #9, or even Night Broken, book #8. To be honest, the last one I really enjoyed was number 7, Frost Burned, and afterwards the series became a slippery slope of ever less imaginative plots and lamer jokes. And more fawning over oh-so-beautiful Adam. Well, whatever else I can say about Smoke Bitten, it had these three elements in spades.

If you know Mercy Thompson series, you know it’s an urban fantasy set in the more rural part of Washington (the state), and the main protagonist is a young woman with complicated parentage – her father is the Coyote, Native American spirit of mischievousness (which by book 12 has been elevated to “chaos”) and she’d been raised by a werewolf pack in a remote part of Montana. But even if you don’t know anything about it, you can easily pick up book #12 and start reading, because about a half of the novel is a detailed rehash of what had happened before. I realize that authors of long series are always faced with the dilemma of keeping their books streamlined and focused on the new plot lines while keeping the readers in the loop. I’ve seen many solutions to the problem, all slightly imperfect – from not making it easy and believing that by book N-th the readers are already invested enough to know what’s going on, to a short synopsis at the beginning, to a list of characters with descriptions, to info-dumping at every opportunity.

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Melissa Albert, The Hazel Wood (2018)

The Hazel Wood

Author: Melissa Albert

Title: The Hazel Wood

Format: E-book

Pages: 359

Series: The Hazel Wood #1

So many people recommended this book that I couldn’t not read it at some point. As it was available at my library as an e-book during lockdown, I jumped at the opportunity – and now here we are 😊.

The Hazel Wood tells the story of a seventeen-year-old Alice Crew and her mother, Ella. Finally settling down in New York after years spent on the road, they hope for a change for better – until the ill luck that kept hunting them throughout their whole lives catches up with them. With her mother kidnapped by strange, dangerous creatures, it’s down to Alice and her school friend Ellery Finch to find Ella before it’s too late. And while Ella stubbornly kept Alice away from her grandmother and the sprawling, infamous Hazel Wood estate, now Alice has no choice but to find and visit that tantalizing, mysterious place – for all the answers to the questions that haunted her all her life might await her there.

The Hazel Wood is a curious book, part-fairy-tale, part-YA fantasy, part-modern UF.  And I guess that this hybrid construction is ultimately the reason for the novel’s unevenness; namely, some elements of Albert’s story work better than others. The book can be roughly divided into two parts: the first, taking place in the normal, contemporary world, bereft of magic, and the second, playing out in the Hinterlands – The Hazel Wood’s equivalent of Faerie. The everyday world of The Hazel Wood is a reflection on modern America, with its starkly contrasting social divides – both between the rich and the poor, and between urban and rural areas, all subtly painted by Albert. On that canvas, which could well serve as a basis for all types of books, from thrillers to literary fiction, Albert sketches a plethora of even more disturbing shapes – these of a hidden, dangerous world, filled with ruthless, amoral creatures somehow able to find their way to our world and wreak havoc in the unsuspecting sleepy suburbs. I really admired the little touches of wild fairy-tales, seemingly without beginning or end, without a discernible moral, but with an overabundance of wilful, gory violence. Those snippets brought to my mind the original Grimm tales – similarly violent and bloody, based on a primeval notion of justice: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. And the way Albert wrote about the tales, as of cool, distanced reportages from war, also recalled the curiously impersonal way brothers Grimm applied to their own collation of folklore tales.

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Brian McClellan, Uncanny Collateral (2019)

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Author: Brian McClellan

Title: Uncanny Collateral

Format: epub

Pages: 96

It’s been some time since I’ve read a really new genre book… Now, I finally did, but, despite it being from one of my favourite young writers, I’m not very happy about it.
Brian McClellan is one of our favourite new authors, his Powder Mage universe – one we greatly appreciate. Great ideas, great characters, constantly improving writing. I’m yet to read his second Powder Mage trilogy, but it’s only because I’m certain I’ll like it and I’m saving it for later.
When I read in his newsletter he wrote a short urban fantasy novel, I was intrigued and immediately bought an epub (pdf and mobi included in the package). I read the first chapter that very day, two further ones during the next couple of weeks, and finished this very short thing only recently, during a flight. Why? Well…

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Robert Holdstock, The Fetch (1991)

Author: Robert Holdstock

Title: The Fetch

Edition: Warner Books, Paperback

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Pages: 376

Robert Holdstock was a distinguished British writer whom I already reviewed once. His Mythago Woods is a great, if a bit rough, journey through the world of Celtic – and earlier – myths connected in a very real way to a modern (well, post-II WW anyway) world. Mythago… is a first part of the Ryhope Woods cycle, whereas The Fetch is a stand-alone novel, but we stay in the general area of myths, archetypes, and British countryside. But while the previous one was scary at times, Fetch could well be called a horror story. I could see it being adapted to the big screen (or Netlix 😉 ) as a classical horror with an Omen vibe (without Christian references).

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Ilona Andrews, Magic Binds (2016)

Magic Binds

Magic Binds is the ninth installment in the highly acclaimed urban fantasy series by the writing duo, Ilona and Gordon Andrews. Having reached the status of bestsellers and the rare honor of hard cover over the span of an almost decade of writing, Kate Daniels series is widely recognized as one of the best urban fantasy series in the market. I have written about the series here. After several pretty decent novels there came a serious dip in the form of Magic Shifts, then a couple of novellas about side characters from Kate Daniels’ world, and an entirely new urban fantasy/romance series before finally the ninth book saw the light of day.

Magic Binds garners enthusiastic reviews from critics and fans alike, showcasing all the strengths of the previous novels. The end of the 10-book story arc is near, and so the ninth book cannot but head toward some kind of a grand conclusion, upping the ante and preparing ground for the big climax. All the smoldering conflicts burst up in flames, all the grudges and favors are coming to the fore once more, and the knowledge of previous events is a must. It follows logically that the readers in general – and the people writing reviews specifically – have invested so much into the series already that their reception might be more than just a bit skewed.

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