This Week’s Mine Shaft

What are the canaries reading this week?

Scent of Magic by Maria V. Snyder

YA Fantasy Adventure

“Though she should be in hiding, Avry will do whatever she can to support Tohon’s opponents. Including infiltrating a holy army, evading magic sniffers, teaching forest skills to soldiers and figuring out how to stop Tohon’s most horrible creations yet; an army of the walking dead—human and animal alike and nearly impossible to defeat.”

I loved the first book of this series, Touch of Power (Five Canaries, all the way). This sequel brings back Avry, Kerrick, and the gang – and a ravaging army that’s rampaging its way through the Fifteen Realms.

Blackcollar by Timothy Zahn

Sci-fi Space Adventure/Suspense

I read and sorta-not-really enjoyed my first encounter with Timothy Zahn’s writing. But having started this one, I’m right glad I have Zahn another try. Besides a story premise that tickles my reading bone (spies, covert operations, betrayal, secret missions, genetically engineered soldiers), the writing style is a world away from what I got from Spinneret.

Aliens have taken over Earth and its colony worlds, but after thirty years of occupation, a plot is brewing. The rebel underground on Earth sends Allen Caine on an undercover mission to another planet in hopes of contacting a unit of genetically enhanced guerrilla commandos – assuming they still exist and can be found. Continue reading

Book Review: The two McCaffrey, and dragons in the sky

Sky Dragons by Anne McCaffrey and Todd McCaffrey

If I have a soft spot for a series, it’s the Dragonriders of Pern. After Tamora Pierce’s Alanna series in middle school, the Pern books were my first foray into Fantasy cum Science Fiction. Somewhere along the road, though, my attention drifted. McCaffrey began co-writing the books with her son, Todd McCaffrey, and I started seeing other novels. But when I saw the cover of Sky Dragons this June, I couldn’t resist. Sky Dragons is also the last Pern book written by the late Anne McCaffrey.

So. Eight books have gone by since I stopped reading. A lot has gone down. Dragonrider politics is a-broiling, time travel is glitchy, and there just aren’t enough dragons to keep the planet safe from the deadly falling space parasite called Thread. So the dragon riders jump back in time to the southern continent to raise dragon hatchlings so they can grow up in time to battle the deadly Thread when it begins to fall.

What should have been a simple and fool-proof plan becomes a Lost-style (well, not quite) struggle for survival. Xhinna, a rare female rider of a blue dragon is shoved into the role of leader, against all tradition. Supplies are running out.

The predatory creatures from the wilds are going after the eggs. It is no longer a question of training the next generation of dragonriders – the very survival of the new settlement  is at stake. Continue reading

[Book Review] The Magicians isn’t just about the magic

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

If I read one more review of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians that proclaims it  “Harry Potter for adults,” I just might break something. Yes, The Magicians is a bildungsroman about a teenager who discovers he’s a magician and subsequently enrolls at an exclusive magician’s college, but just because the two works share certain elements does not mean that the former is simply a matured version of the latter. (Plus, as an adult, I find the implication that Harry Potter isn’t for adults quite insulting. But I digress.) In actuality, comparing Grossman’s novel to J.K. Rowling’s series does a disservice to The Magicians. It is an inventive story that stands quite well on its own. Continue reading

Book Review: Stray by Rachel Vincent

(Shifters, book 1)

Immediately after finishing this novel, I found myself complaining plaintively about the book to my reading buddy, Kat Zantow. It was just like Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten, I said. Our (super-rare) female were-something heroine builds a normal life for herself and gets a human boyfriend to escape her smothering were-family. Then shit starts going down, which, I took great pains to point out, usually take the form of serial kidnappings and murders of female were’s, and she’s forced back into her old world and into the arms of her superhawt ex.

“Wait, wait,” said my long-suffering friend. “Isn’t this like the plot of every werewolf paranormal/urban fantasy ever?”

“Uhm, maybe.”

“And didn’t it say something of the sort on the back blurb?”

I looked at the book blurb:

“There are only eight breeding female werecats left . . .

And I’m one of them.

I look like an all-American grad student. But I am a werecat, a shape-shifter, and I live in two worlds.

Despite reservations from my family and my Pride, I escaped the pressure to continue my species and carved out a normal life for myself. Until the night a Stray attacked.

I’d been warned about Strays — werecats without a Pride, constantly on the lookout for someone like me: attractive, female, and fertile. I fought him off, but then learned two of my fellow tabbies had disappeared.

This brush with danger was all my Pride needed to summon me back . . . for my own protection. Yeah, right. But I’m no meek kitty. I’ll take on whatever — and whoever — I have to in order to find my friends. Watch out, Strays — ’cause I got claws, and I’m not afraid to use them . . .”

(Amazon & Goodreads description)

“Uhm…Yeah, I maybe remember reading something of the sort when I got the book,” I finally admitted.

“Uh-huh. Now what was that reading resolution again?”

I sighed. “Ye shall not judge a book for being exactly what it claims to be.”

And for what it promises to be, Stay delivers. Continue reading

Book Review: A spin-off that doesn’t let up

Book Review: Storm Glass by Maria V. Snyder

When  glass orbs start exploding in the hands of the most powerful magicians of the Stormdancer clans, it becomes clear that they might not be able to provide the harnessed power of the thunder storms for the local factories.

So they call in Opal, glass mage-in-training, to investigate, thus pulling her into a deadly conspiracy. On the side plot, there is Opal’s rival, Pazia, at school, and a love triangle between the powerful Stormdancer Kade and the tormented glassblower Ulrik. (DRAMA ENSUES)

I loved Snyder’s first series, and her latest release, A Touch of Power, got hit with a five canary rating. This book, however, didn’t zing my reading tooth. In fact, I don’t think it would have zinged if I had gotten a couple more fillings, covered the book with aluminum foil, and bitten down. Which is a right shame, because Snyder’s writing is there.

Enter my split-canary personalities:

Confused Canary:  If you want to enjoy this book (and understand who all the characters are and their oblique references to traumatic pasts), you should read the previous series. Having gone through the Study series when it first came out (2005-2008) and then tackled Storm Glass in 2012, I had only the vaguest recollections of what happened to the rather minor character of Opal in book 3. I struggled.

Skeptical Canary: Storm Glass follows Opal Cowan as she deals with the aftermath of being used, poisoned, tortured, and of betraying her family in friends in Fire Study (the aforementioned book 3 of the Study series). She is now studying glass magic while slowly healing from the aftermath of her ordeal. Opal is gradually coming to grips with her past and–

Well, no. Not really. Continue reading

Book Review: When the wrong one loves you right…in a swamp.

Book Review: Beneath the Thirteen Moons by Kathryne Kennedy

The last time the sickness visited Mahri Zin’s village, she lost her husband and child because the Healers refused to help swamp smugglers. This time, Mahri travels to the capital, knocks out a Healer, and dumps him over the wall into her boat. But the man she snatches turns out to be the arrogant heir apparent, Prince Korl Com’nder, and his enemies seize this opportunity to do their damnest to kill him. Suddenly, it’s up to Mahri to save the prince’s life–and perhaps convince him that the lives of her loved ones are worth saving too.

Now what I expected from the book was that culture clash between Mahri and Korl, his dawning understanding of how the other side lives, and a budding attraction for the entirely socially unacceptable swamp smuggler.

On Mahri’s end, I couldn’t wait to follow the slow recovery from the grief over her family’s death and her coming to grips with her feelings for the man who’s an integral part of the system responsible for her loss. The book would be one part fantasy, one part romance, and one part careful study of the clash of cultures and cultural classes!

“What are you going on about?” my reading friend said. “You knew exactly what you were getting into. There’s a shirtless guy on the cover.”

Well, yes, okay, there is.

So I’ll just dive into the bad, the good, and the shirtless…

Continue reading

Advanced Book Review: White Witch by Trish Milburn

Book 1 of the Coven Series

Publication date: March 01, 2012

“Hot tears burn my eyes as I watch the last of the black coloring disappear from the tips of my long, blond hair, draining away into nothingness. I swipe at the tears as I curse my image. Fate seems determines to smack me at every turn. Not only does my witch DNA evidently make my hair resistant to dye, but soon I’m going to have to use the inhuman power I want so desperately to leave behind.”

–Jax Pherson, on dying hair black. (pg. 1)

Jax is a 16-year-old  in hiding. The people after her? Her family: the dark, ruthless coven of powerful witches that wants to make her into a killer. But Jax is going to make a stab at her dream of being normal instead, enrolling in high school, making friends, and doing normal teenage things. But normal becomes a bit more complicated when she finds herself falling for a Hunter and dodging the vicious baseball throws of a jealous Mean Girl.

As a character, Jax is superstrong, Cursed with Awesome, superfast and model gorgeous–and would rather be anything but. The supporting cast includes the very handsome and edgy hunter, a young Joss Whedon fan with great hair, and a late guest appearance from Jax’s shadowy past. Continue reading

Fantasy Watch: Fairy-Tales the New Trend?

One day, they found themselves trapped in a world where all their happy endings were stolen. …our world.

Whenever a new paranormal, fantasy, or science fiction show appears on my TV watching radar, I pounce. This Halloween week, we have the pleasure of seeing two fairy-tale related premieres. Grimm, a detective-style story about a guy who can see the fairy tale creatures all around us, and Once Upon a Time, a story of fairy tale characters who find themselves in a small modern-day USA town.

The Story: Once Upon a Time…

…an evil queen got her revenge on Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) by cursing them to be sent to a parallel world, their memories wiped and their happily ever afters gone.

“Where are we going?” Snow White demands, as a maelstrom of psychedelic curse clouds consumes the walls of the nursery.

“Somewhere horrible,” the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) says. “Absolutely horrible.”

Modern-day state of Maine.

But the story really starts when a ten year old kid (Jared Gilmore) takes a Greyhound bus upstate, turns up on bail bondswoman Emma’s  (Jennifer Morrison)  doorstep, and announces, “I’m your son.”

Not only that, he insists that Emma needs to come back with him to Storybrooke, Maine to save everyone from the Evil Queen’s curse. Everyone there is a fairy tale character, he tells her, and they’ve all forgotten who they are.

By pairing the two worlds, Once Upon a Time promises something to both fantasy-lovers and those of us in it for the mystery, drama, and small-town angst. Each episode will spend time in both worlds, moving Emma’s story forward, even as it retraces the steps of Snow White’s happy ending and the lead up to the Evil Queen’s curse.

The performance is top-notch, with the actors playing up the melodrama of their fairy tale roles, and the gritty humanity of their modern day counterparts. Robert Carlyle (Mr. Gold aka Rumpelstiltskin) plays his creepy, mad role to perfection and there’s something so adorable about Jennifer Morrison’s frustrated confusion as the little boy demands she return to Storybrooke with him.

And of course, my personal favorite bit of the first episode? The soundtrack as the Evil Queen crashes the wedding.  Dun-Dun Dun-Dun Dun-Dun.

The pilot creates and builds on its dramatic tension. We, as viewers, know the truth about Storybrooke and we also know who everyone’s alter ego is. But it’s a secret between us, the town mayor (aka Evil Queen), and the little boy. Fairyland itself incorporates an interesting cross-section of fairy tale characters: Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio exists alongside Brothers Grimm’s Snow White and Red Riding Hood, promising variety and vivid characters.

With its premiere on ABC netting over 12 million viewers, Once Upon a Time is sure to stick around. But only time will tell if it’s a story worth watching.

[ Book Review ] Indie Series: The Gamble of the Godless

The Gamble of the Godless by David Maine

Normally, you can’t throw a stone in the fantasy aisle without hitting elves, dwarves, and orcs. But David Maine, an author who had made his debut in literary fiction, steers The Gamble of the Godless clear of fantasy staples. Here is a world where animals talk and your head can explode if someone looks at you funny. Avin de Bors dreams of an ambush of wolves-on-men and, when he wakes, finds that an entire army has been demolished on the Free Plains by his house.

Avin does not set out to become a hero–he’s merely looking to keep his brother from being killed in a misguided war. In the process, he becomes the center of a ragtag group of creatures on a quest. What begins as a day trip with a suspiciously eloquent footsoldier named Ax becomes an epic journey to discover more about the mysterious force that is drawing on weak-willed discontents all across the land.

While The Gamble of the Godlessby David Maine follows our friendly Avin (who performs his role as budding hero well, without the excessive angst that drapes many coming-of-age novels), he is not the reason to read the book. His animal companions are.

The characters that join Avin’s quest are impressive in their variety: a horse with a past, an explosives-wielding raccoon, and a tiny owl. Though not taking center stage, the female characters do their best to steal the show. I took an immediate liking to the feisty, one-armed sorceress, and the most charming creature award has to go to Summon-the-Wind, a drug-addled cheetah. Continue reading

[ Series Review ] Patricia Briggs and the Wolves

The Mercedes Thompson Series by Patricia Briggs

I had to stop and think (a process that ended up stretching into weeks of procrastination) about how I was going to summarize this series. On the one hand, there are six Mercy Thompson books out there, each building on the other, and I want to talk about my impressions, dammit. On the other, canaries like spoiler-free overviews. So here goes nothing.

The premise: For her day job, Mercedes Thompson is the local Volkswagen mechanic in the contemporary Tri-Cities area of Washington, working in a garage she bought from a gremlin. After work, she spends her free time running around her backwoods as a coyote and avoiding her neighborhood werewolves.

Moon Called: The series opens with a great premise, a strong lead character, and a slightly shaky plot. Mercedes Thompson is a shape-shifter mechanic who’s doing very well on her own, thank-you-very-much, when a homeless, starving werewolf stops by and asks her for a job.

The story hooked from the beginning, as did Briggs easy approach world-building. It fits well into the urban fantasy tradition of supernatural heroines–ostracized for their gift, troubled by their upbringing, pursued by handsome men (and not-men), caught up by conspiracies… What can I say, I eat it up.

Blood Bound: Though Mercedes has been fixing cars for her vampire customers on the side for a while now, she doesn’t expect one to come knocking. But Stephan, an okay guy as far as the dead go and Mercy’s friend, needs her help and her unique coyote-walker nose to investigate something that has come to town. Turns out, it’s big, scary, and spells trouble in large, bloody letters.

We learn more about the secretive (and cut-throat) world of vampire politics and about Mercy’s heritage as a coyote walker. Hint: Leaving a walker alive is a no-no for vampires. (Whoops, Stephan.)

Whereas the first book, Moon Called, threw me when its convoluted plot unraveled, the story in this installment is solid.  Instead, I had some trouble on the interpersonal front.

CanaryTheFirst calls a time out to talk about it:

Oh dear. At this rate, we’re gonna be in a lot of trouble by book seven. Sure, I have a weakness for light, fluffy romance in my urban fantasy. But it reaches a critical point (and implodes my suspension of disbelief) when the number of men in love with the main character exceeds the author’s ability to explain what’s so special about our tom-boyish, scrappy heroine. Some authors (I’m looking at you, Laurel K. Hamilton) go for a mystical explanation. Maybe the main character is an incubus, or smells really, really good to magical creatures. Most of the time, though, the immortal, ancient, all-powerful men fight over her because she’s brave, cute, and keeps telling them to get lost.

Right.

So you can see why I became mildly concerned (read: annoyed) when a third powerful manly-man professed his undying devotion to our Mercy. I say. Hands off, vampire!

But! By the third and fourth book, the romantic subplot that was Mercy Thompson’s life settled out; Briggs even offered a couple explanations for the Why-Of-The-Attraction (WOTA). I am glad to say that my cynicism was unwarranted and the love triangle did not, in fact, resolve itself into a love septagon.

Time in!

Iron Kissed: This is the book where the series really hits its stride. When a series of murders happen on the fey reservation, Mercy’s friend and mentor is the primary suspect. She knows Zee didn’t do it, but the Gray Lords would rather he take the fall–as quietly and as quickly as possible.  It’s up to Mercy to figure out who’s behind the deaths and get Zee’s name cleared. This book ups the intensity once again, and the costs of being involved are a whole lot higher in this book.

This is also the first book of the series in which Briggs uses an event to sketch out an explicit message to the audience–one about survival and the lasting effects of emotional scars.

Bone Crossed: Mercy is still trying to heal from the fallout in Iron Kissed when Stephan materializes in her living room, starved and tortured–and really, really hungry for blood.

Turns out, the vampires found out what Mercy did in Blood Bound, and Stephan is merely the beginning. They’re coming after her, and not even her ties to the local wolves may be enough to stop them.

Silver Borne: This book is the high point of the series story arc, pulling together the loose ends from all the other books in the most delightful way. The fey want the Silver Borne, and they have reason to suspect that Mercy has it. Mercy herself has no idea what a Silver Borne is. But when her home is burned down and Sam, her roommate, begins to lose his hold on reality, she knows she’s running out of time. This books marks the conclusion of several plot arcs: who does Mercy end up with, her relationship with the pack, and her position in the supernatural world.

River Marked: Because of how conclusive Silver Borne was in closing up the major story arcs from previous books, River Marked reads like a lighter addition, geared almost exclusively towards the fans: there is an indulgent wedding scene, light banter between characters, and token appearance of old favorite characters.

This novel also diverges from the others in its introduction of a completely new type of supernatural. Mercedes’ native american heritage, something only lightly touched on in the other books, rears its head with a vengeance (and tries to eat Mercy). Despite (or perhaps because) there is no clear continuity between the other books and this latest installment, the books sometimes slips into podium mode, with characters making Message lectures about change, humanity, and Doing the Right Thing. With this book, mileage may vary wildly.

However, I am keeping my fingers crossed that instead of being a shaky downhill roll, River Marked is setting up a new, long-term plot arc. I’m looking at you, upcoming Thompson novel…

Upcoming: Mercy Thompson #7 (Spring 2013)

You Might Also Like:

  • Kelley Armstrong: Bitten
  • Robin McKinley: Sunshine
  • Kim Harrison: Dead Witch Walking
  • Rachel Caine: Ill Wind

Want more Briggs? Check out her Fantasy novels in our article on Patricia Briggs and the Flying Critters. Read about her other werewolf series in Patricia Briggs and Some More Wolves.