Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sacrificed in Shadow (Ascension Series #1) by S.M. Reine

A lot has changed in Elise’s life and she still has a lot to learn about exactly what she is – but one thing there’s no doubt about id how powerful and dangerous she has become. Certainly she’s more than a match for a rogue werewolf which small-town deputy Lincoln Marshall believes is plaguing his home

But when she hears the list of victims she’s intrigued – because one is a girl from several years ago she failed to save. Someone is trying to lure her to this town and she means to find out who and why. And why they’re trying to frame the country’s last werewolf pack for murder.

This book had an impossible task. This is a brand new series but is taking the existing vast and rich world that all of S.M. Reine’s books take place in and it’s taking Elise as the protagonist – a character who has already been the centre of the Descent Series. Over the course of that series, a lot has happened to Elise – and that’s a massive understatement. Her experiences with angels, demons, in Hell and Heaven, with Adam and Eve and God and her best friend/ally/lover/guardian James and so much else are deep, complicated and incredibly involved. Elise has been through a lot that has created an extremely full and complicated character – especially in terms of her magic and just what she is; there’s such a lot there. On top of that there’s her complicated history with the multiple people in her life she has a lot of history with – and all that history is shown in their interactions.

So this highly developed character with this incredibly epic history had to be introduced/recapped along with a rich and huge world that had already been explored by multiple series all had to be fit into this one book along with a story… it was such a tall order that I put off reading this book, thinking I couldn’t tackle it until I’d finished the Descent Series and maybe some of the other series set in the same world. Yet it worked. This book is genuinely stand alone. I’m sure the other series will add to Elise’s backstory – but I haven’t finished the Descent Series and could still follow her rich backstory and understand all the complexities that go into making her her.

All of this world building and character development was fit into the book in a very natural and flowing fashion. I never felt there was a lot of convoluted infodumping, nor a lot of clumsy exposition, the pacing wasn’t bogged down by conveying all of this vast information but nor where there any holes that made it impossible to follow the story or Elise’s nature or the huge world we have here. And considering how much there is to squeeze in there, that is really really impressive; I’ve seen authors badly fail having to convey a tenth of the information.

On top of that the story is surprisingly involved. Again, it wouldn’t surprise me if the first book in a series was relatively simple in terms of plot in order to introduce the world and characters, but this plot was wonderfully twisty. We had a lot of action, a number of suspects a nice number of red herrings without getting convoluted and a completely surprise ending I didn’t see coming even though, as Elise pointed out, there are definitely more than enough clues there to follow it. All of this is told with pretty excellent pacing (perhaps the number of side plots at times makes me feel like Elise has somehow wandered off from what she’s actually supposed to be doing, but the side plots are still relevant, useful and interesting).

The Librarian Quest for the Spear

Flynn is a geeks geek.  Still in his 30's and in college, as well as living with his mother, it would be fair to say that Flynn is a classic case of failure to launch.  It is only when Flynn's professor looks up his records and discovers he has 22 degrees and decides to boot him from the class, that Flynn is faced to acknowledge that there is a life outside of academia.  Flynn finds an invitation to apply for the role of a librarian and after proving that he can read people as well as Sherlock Holmes, Flynn is given the job. Flynn quickly realises that at this library, he will be forced to do more than catalog books because within its archives, the library contains singular wonders like Pandora's Box, Excalibur and the Arc of the Covenant.  

Flynn doesn't get to settle into his new role, as on his first day, the library is robbed of part of the Speak of Destiny.  Flynn is tasked to retrieve the last two pieces to ensure that spear is not made whole again, to avoid a disaster.  Having never done anything beyond study, Flynn knows that he's over his head but since the world is at stake and he is now the librarian, he has no choice but to attempt, even if trying may well mean his death.

The Librarian Quest for the Spear is a typical White man saves the world, semi action flick.  The small shift in this movie is the character of Nicole Noone, who partners with Flynn on this journey.  Flynn is without doubt the brains of the operation, being able to quickly decipher cryptic clues; however, Nicole is without doubt the brawn.  Nicole saves Flynn's life on several occasions.  She is a woman of action and though extremely guarded, is unafraid to face danger.  This was quite subversive, given that movies in this genre, like The Indiana Jones series, not only casts Jones as the expert, there is always a damsel in distress that needs saving.  We learn very little about Nicole, beyond what Flynn is able to surmise, making her in many ways little more than a female weapon.  

Other female characters include Margie Carsen, Flynn's mother, Charlene, the caretaker of the library, and finally,  Lana.  Margie spends much of her on screen time obsessing about the fact that Flynn does not have a girlfriend.  Margie invites a young woman to the house to meet Flynn and even resorts to imploring strange women at a café to give her nerdy son a second look.  Margie is the concerned mother to the T and beyond that, we learn nothing else about her.  Charlene is the stern caretaker of the library and she is not in the least bit impressed by Flynn. We learn nothing about Charlene as a person, beyond the fact that she does not like to be touched, though there is a hint of sarcasm blending with her salty demeanor. Finally, we come to Lana, one of only two women of colour in the movie.  Lana is an ass kicking woman, who essentially is the sidekick to the evil librarian Edward Wilde.  We don't learn anything about Lana's motivations and just as Nicole is the heavy for team good guy, Lana is the heavy for team bad guy. Quite preposterously, Lana ends up with a crush on Flynn, so of course the two women have to fight it out.  Heaven forbid each of them remember that the fate of the world is at stake. 

This Week in Book Covers 8th December - 12th December

Death's Mistress (Midnight Daughter #2) by Karen Chance

Why why why Dorina Basarab why have you been afflicted by unnecessarily sexy leather? And why would you go through all the drama of this book - the hectic chases, the constant fights, the investigation - wearing so little clothing? Why is the navel and cleavage on display? Has Dorina ever been that concerned with looking so sexy?

This is such a classic Urban Fantasy cover - a kick arse lethal woman must be allergic to clothing

Deceiver's Bond (A Clairvoyant's Complicated Life #2) by Katherine Bayless

I like this one. It’s a really good representation of the character, even if we can’t see her head. It’s a nice touch to include her gloves - and I love that nearly all of her skin is covered which is especially important given her powers. She isn’t sexualised and looks awfully tough and has nice little touches like the teddy bear to ensure we know this cover was expressly made for this book and truly represents this particular book. I love it

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Shining in Crimson (Empire of Blood #1) by Robert S. Wilson

In Wilson's dystopian world, the United States is no more and its place the American Empire rules the people.  It is a theocracy ruled over by an emperor.  The people are forced to live under strict morality laws and those who refuse to conform are sent to Necropolis the former Las Vegas and now home to a population of vampires.  Hank Evan is sent to Necropolis as punishment for procuring a prostitute and he is determined to survive somehow because he is all that his son Toby has yet.  What Hank does not realise is that surviving this night will cost him so much more than he ever imagined.

As an introduction to a trilogy, Shining in Crimson was not bad.  Wilson gave us a sense of the dystopian world and its divisions.  I would have liked to know more about how the American Empire came to be and more specifically how the truce with the vampires came into existence.  We start the novel learning that the war has now been over for 20 years and that the government uses religious propaganda to prop up its rules, along with a fear that the alternative is to become prey to the sinning vampires. 

The POV constantly changes throughout the book and though I normally find this irritating, it helped to bring the different elements of the story together.  I found it interesting to see vampires who based on their long lives understand better than the humans, exactly what the American Empire is all about.  For safety, the humans have traded their liberty.  Hank has vague memories of a time when the world was different and a father who fought and died for the United States.  He is tormented by the horrible bargain he is forced to make.  Then we have Simon a devout member of the Empire, to the point that he even thinks of his own mother as a whore, finally coming to grips with the fact that he has been sold a book of lies and finally, Ishan who is determined to hold his vampire council together and bring down the empire.

The majority of the characters in this book are male.  The only three female characters of note are Simon's mother, who viscously slut shamed.  When she is raped by Peter, Simon is horrified and yet when Peter says that you cannot rape the willing, Simon is quick to agree.  It is because of her dress and the fact that she didn't physically fight back and instead begged for her son's safety that Simon refuses to see her as the victim that she is.  It is only after gaining empathy from Ishan, that Peter begins to understand he may have potentially wronged his mother.  The second female character is the human vampire Rachel.  As with Simon's mother, she is also a rape victim.  Each day she is subject to rape and beatings by her father and her brothers, which she endures until Peter kills them.  In turn, after being judged worthy, Rachel becomes a vampire, only to rape Hank in a bid to help Peter become the leader of the vampires.  There is also Grace, the dead wife of Hank.  Years later he is still mourning her loss.  Grace is really little more than a footnote in this story. Finally, we have the Queen of the Ancients, the only ancient vampire to be sentient.  We don't really learn much about her beyond this.

Review: Dracula Untold

"Sometimes the world doesn't need another hero.  Sometimes what it needs is a monster."

As the title suggests, Dracula Untold, is essentially an origin story of the world's most famous vampire tale.  The movie begins with the narration of Dracula's son, telling the audience that his father, Vlad Tepes, despite all accounts is a hero.  This is quite the opposite of Dracula's treatment in Stoker's version but is however far more accurate to how he is perceived by his own people.  The real Vlad Tepes, fought off Turkish invaders and was inducted into The Order of the Dragons, to protect Christendom from the Ottoman threat.  Being a movie, there is much creative license taken with what we know of Vlad's life; however, it is a somewhat interesting, if not wholly accurate story.

After having been given to the Turks as part of a tribute and inscription order, Dracula is taught to fight, and indeed seek blood.  It is while a Turk captive that Dracula gains the famous moniker, Vlad the Impaler (a title btw given to the real Vlad Tepes posthumously)  Vlad is tortured by memories of his time under Turkish rule but under the reassurances of his cloyingly sweet wife Mirena and his son Ingeras, Vlad settles into peace but is ever watchful for a day when this fragile peace will end.

Believing that he has stumbled upon an invading force of Turks, Vlad and his men make their way to Broken Tooth Mountain, only to meet a vampire.  Vlad alone escapes this encounter, leaving him with one more horrific memory to add to his painful trauma.  When Ottoman sultan Mehmed, demands a tribute of 1000 of  Wallachia's young boys, including Vlad's son Inegras, be conscripted into his army, Vlad is unwilling to sacrifice his child, as his father before him did, even if it means dooming his country to a war they are ill equipped to fight.  Our Anti-hero returns to Broken Tooth Mountain, and there he strikes a deal that will change his world. Vlad drinks the blood of the vampire and is told that he will have a fraction of the power of his powerful sire for three days, but retain his mortality, if he can manage to resist the temptation to drink human blood.  And thus, the game is afoot.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Archangel's Legion (Guildhunter #6) by Nalini Singh

The Cascade is coming, ominous portents rock the world and Archangels are gifted with new powers – and like in previous Cascades, they’re ready to use them in war

In New York, angels fall from the sky, their population decimated by the wounded, the river runs red and it starts raining blood. A new plague impossibly targets vampires and just when Raphael and Elena need their forces to be at their strongest, they are being devastated.

War is coming – and they are not ready.

One of the things this series does well is pacing over the arc of the whole story. In the early books we began with a lot of epic – Uram and Elena becoming an angel and Lijuan destroying Beijing, it was a lot to suddenly be in the middle of it. Then we had a few books that were less epic – introducing some of Raphael’s 7 and their partners in a more low key level while still slowly developing the idea of the Cascade and how everything was brewing – and now we’re getting back into the epic, world-destroying action again. I think that makes the overall arc work really well, keeping things personal as well as epic and avoiding the presentation that this is a world in which the extreme happens all the time and leaving the series in a situation where it constantly has to out-epic itself each book.

This continues with this book – a lot of it is spent on budding ominous action. The Cascade means lots of ominous portents coupled with the Archangels finally marshalling their forces and preparing for war – starting with lots of ominous sneak attacks with their newly gained powers. In response, Raphael is not only preparing his own defences, but martialling whatever alliances he can muster. The book does have some major action moments, but that’s not the core – the core is the preparation, the growing, looming, ominous feeling of menace and the general sense that everything is going to fall apart very soon. It’s a really well maintained theme as Elena runs among all these dramatic actions and preparations while also maintaining her relationships and continuing her character growth.

Of course, when we get to the end of the book we have an awesome epic battle that is, indeed, awesome and epic

There’s also some excellent world building that comes from this – just lots of little indications as to how this world differs from ours – like actual heavy weapons are much less common than in our world because they’re useless against Archangels and wars in their world is pretty much all about the Archangels. Their rules and disdain dictate what military technology is actually useful.

The Librarians, Season One, Episode Three: And the Horns of a Dilemma

A man rushes though a building panicked and is screaming for help.  He runs into Karen and Franklin dressed in a black hooded garments.  Karen says a spell and the man who screamed for help gets dragged away by his heels.  Frank and Karen then enter the elevator and start talking about food.

The Librarians make their way through some sort of factory.  Ezekiel attempts to attack Eve, who is following them and is quickly dealt with.  When Cassandra stands to help, she knocks herself unconscious and a frustrated Eve lifts the hood of her shirt.  Later, outside, Eve chastises Stone for not realising that the Librarians cannot fight everything with brute strength alone. Both Eve and Ezekiel make excuses for their failure and Eve asserts that they are going to run drills everyday until she is certain that she can trust them out in the field.  When they return to the library, Jenkins informs them that a new case has shown up in his book.  Eve is quick to say that the Librarians are not ready but they are not all pleased by this determination.  They argue that Flynn left them to help people, not sit around. 

Eve finds Jenkins in his lab experimenting on artifacts and makes it clear that it is hard enough to control the Librarians, without Jenkins dangling the book in front of them.  Jenkins argues that the Librarians have to enter the field at some point but Eve brings up the failures she has had with soldiers on missions who have been trained, adding that the three librarians aren't even close to ready.

While Eve is talking to Jenkins, the Librarians decide to check out the book.

Jenkins points out to Eve that the job of Librarians is to protect people from harm, thereby putting themselves in danger.  Eve counters by saying that she cannot protect three Librarians without more training.  Jenkins argues that there have been a lot of Librarians with no training at all and that the best ones came back.

Eve returns to the Librarians, to find them looking through the book.  Cassandra brings up the missing Henry Birch and Stone adds that there are seven other clippings of missing people, who all went missing this year.  Eve says that with that many missing, the police must be looking into it.  Ezekiel corrects the assertion by pointing out that the disappearances are from all over the country and the only reason they are connected is because they all showed up in the book. Stone points out that though the missing were from all over, they all lived in Boston.  Cassandra says that they were also all interns At Golden X Foods. Stone asks how many more will go missing before they step in.  Eve questions if the group is willing to risk their lives for Henry and Ezekiel makes it clear that he won't risk his life but can outrun everything.  Eve agrees to work the case and demands that the team go in fully prepared.

Jenkins interrupts the meeting and tells them that he is sending them to Boston.  Jenkins then explains how magic works, before hooking  a globe up to the broom closet door. When the team opens the door, it leads to Boston.  Cassandra realises that Jenkins has created a worm hole and rushes back into the Annex with the Librarians following her, to discover that they other side of the Annex is still connected to the west coast.  Jenkins warns that the door doesn't stay open long and of course, Ezekiel wants to know if Jenkins can create a door to a bank vault.  Eve cuts Ezekiel off and makes it clear to the Librarians that if they are going to do this, they need to do what she says, when she says.

Lost Girl, Season 5, Episode 2: Like Hell Part 2

Kenzi is pretty panicked about being buried alive (which I really don’t blame her for) and, thankfully, Dyson and Lauren dig her up and get her medical help. Some necessary snark follows before Kenzi tells them what happened to Bo.

She has traded herself to a mystery person, probably her father, and was dumped in the lift and has now arrived on her floor – dimly lit stone tunnels with a fancy fountain and a rather out of place bouquet. It’s a maze. She walks through it chasing echoes and blurs – when one of those blurs cuts her leg; it’s a woman with pointy ears, teeth and claws and a skill for voice imitation (called Puca). Seeming to be on Bo’s side comes a bird that turns into another woman, lacking the pointy bits. Like any good guide, she is completely vague but talks about “defeating your doubts” and “Puca’s true voice” which is cryptic speak for “give Puca a kick” because that defeats the maze. That’s a pretty crappy maze you’ve got there.

They’re in Tartarus, that hidden hell realm Trick mentioned, and Bo has déjà vu about it (probably because it’s just the Valhalla set with the lights turned off. C’mon Lost Girl that’s just cheap). The woman warns Bo that Tartarus will look for a way to keep her but Bo wants to see daddy dearest.

Lauren gives Kenzi a full check up (or tries to, Kenzi is a very very very annoying patient) which turns to vodka – and something moving a beaker and breaking it without apparently touching it. Poltergeist? Telekinesis? Heavy lorry driving past? Apparently a ghost – which writes “Help” in the condensation on glass; naturally they assume Bo. But we didn’t see Bo doing any ghostly writing

Perhaps confirming that, when Kenzi reunites with Trick at the Dal, he warns her that it could be any number of things, but gets her a spirit board anyway. Because Kenzi conjuring the spirit world won’t backfire at all.

In Tartarus the woman tries to treat Bo’s bleeding leg and Bo decides to go for her own healing instead – kissing her to drain chi to heal, then having sex with the woman (as much as one can while fully clothed. So, less sex and more kissing and light massage). While she does, in the real world Lauren is sleeping on a bed and the ghostly spirit parts her clothes (to reveal the bra she, presumably, wore in the shower)

The stripping does convince Lauren that the ghost is Bo. In Tartarus, Bo learns her lover is Persephone of Greek Myth, Bo’s step mother. Which means Bo is the daughter of Hades. More importantly, it means she just got it on with her step-mother which is just icky except it’s pretty tame as far as the Hellenic gods go. Bo definitely wants to talk to daddy now, despite Persephone’s protests about what a bad man he is. Bo doesn’t exactly trust Persephone either.

She enters her old nursery, remembering from a past vision. There she sees the cage where her mother was kept and Persephone explains the terrible way she was treated. Bo feels terrible for her mother especially as she learns that she sacrificed herself to free Bo and while she is sad, Persephone talks about Hades’s plan for Bo to be uber powerful and that his own power was weakening.