Urban Fantasy

Urban Fantasy

Black Blade Blues

Black Blade Blues

Black Blade Blues

This novel was published in 2010 and is the first novel by J. A. Pitts (John A. Pitts).  I have been trying to read up on genres that I usually paid no attention to such as urban fantasy, westerns, and so forth.  So I got this book on  lark because I liked that it was going to include some Norse stuff. Also, the main character is a blacksmith, which is definitely unique.

However, I did not like the main character at all.  She’s hardly believable.  But also, she’s just not a character I want to read about.  At all.  Sarah Beauhall is the daughter of really hyper-Christian parents.  She went to college for a degree in English (not unlike the author) and then somehow got involved in becoming a blacksmith.  She also works as an apprentice for another female blacksmith.  This was one of many things that irked me.  How many blacksmiths does the author think exist?  And of that number, how many, really, are female?   Beauhall is also in a SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) guild called Black Briar.  Anyway, Sarah is a bit too wild and rambunctious and she mangles all the friendships that she has.  She also gets fired from her two jobs (one as the apprentice blacksmith, two as the props manager for a movie group).  In the end, however, she’s the heroine that saves everyone and all is repaired in her relationships.

The plot is really quite predictable.  I really like the concept of utilizing Norse mythology in an urban fantasy setting.  I really do not like the way Pitts uses it.  I like the concept of dragons and Odin and witches.  I dislike using these concepts in a way in which all of the characters are somewhat petty, make dumb mistakes, and have obvious tragic flaws.  Also, the amount of relationship/romance fluff in the book is just downright obnoxious.  I guess Pitts wanted to focus on the characters in this manner, but honestly, I disliked all of it.  However, even supposing there was a reader who was all very interested in the relationship stuff, I think that by the middle of the book that reader, too, would find the incessant whining and acting-out of the characters to be tedious and tired.

Pitts does have a few interesting characters, like Qindra, but for the most part the characters are over-emotive and obvious.  The main character does have some snarky wit here and there, but it hardly makes up for her miserable whining.  Frankly, Beauhall is not a likeable character.  The dragons seem simply beastly, but though they have lived an exceedingly long time, they still make stupid mistakes and act over-emotionally.  (How does a DRAGON act over-emotively?!)  Overall, the book is not the worst book I have ever read. I could easily give it one star, but I do appreciate the overall general idea of the Norse mythology.  For that, Pitts is begrudgingly given a second star.

2 stars

Magic in the Blood

Magic in the Blood

Magic in the Blood

Magic in the Blood by Devon Monk is the second in the Allie Beckstrom series. Having read and enjoyed the first book in the series, I was happy to read this second novel. The title of the book relates to the plot in that much blood magic is being tossed around by a whole pile of villains.

Working as a Hound – tracing illegal spells back to their casters – has taken its toll on Allison Beckstrom. But even though magic has given her migraines and stolen her recent memory, Allie isn’t about to quit. Then the police’s magic enforcement division asks her to consult on a missing persons case. But what seems to be a straightforward job turns out to be anything but, as Allie finds herself drawn into the underworld of criminals, ghosts, and blood magic.

The story continues, more or less, where the previous novel had finished. Characters from the first book, such as Zayvion, Violet, and Kevin feature in this book as well. One of the things that I liked about the previous novel was the concept of magic that Monk created. Magic is a really common element in urban fantasy, so if an author wants to keep my interest, they had better come up with an interesting take on it.  I liked how it is something akin to a municipal utility.  Some of that seems to change in this book, as we meet several characters who are able to operate using magic without it acting in the typical municipal utility sort of way.

Ghosts appear in this book. They are not actually ghosts, though – which I found to be a relief. The last thing urban fantasy needs is some hackneyed, silly ghosts running around.  However, what Monk really does well in this book is to write the parts involving Allie’s father.  The scenes involving him are really creepy.  Again, at the end – was Mr. Beckstrom a good guy or a bad guy? I’m okay with the developments of this plotline.  By that I mean, we learn that Mr. Beckstrom was a member of the secret, powerful society called the Authority and Allie finds out that her father’s widowed girlfriend is pregnant.

Overall, I was satisfied with the book. There are times when Allie gets repetitive, though. I mean, I know it’s important for the reader to recall key details – but the reader does not even get the chance to forget. I think Monk needs to relax a little bit – readers are not complete idiots – we can handle remembering a few key points for a few chapters. Also, I really hate how Allie just swoons and gets ridiculous whenever Zayvion is in the room. I dunno if women really act like that or not, but it does serve to reinforce the notion that women are silly, emotive airheads.  On a positive note, I absolutely love Allie’s addiction to coffee!

3 stars

Magic to the Bone

Magic to the Bone

Magic to the Bone cover

I finished this book last night. It was published in 2008 and is Monk’s first novel. Its also the first in the Allie Beckstrom series. From the back of the book:

Using magic means it uses you back, and every spell exacts a price from its user. But some people get out of it by Offloading the cost of magic onto an innocent. Then it’s Allison Beckstrom’s job to identify the spell-caster. Allie would rather live a hand-to-mouth existence than accept the family fortune—and the strings that come with it. But when she finds a boy dying from a magical Offload that has her father’s signature all over it, Allie is thrown back into his world of black magic. And the forces she calls on in her quest for the truth will make her capable of things that some will do anything to control…

First of all, the reader can tell that a woman wrote this novel. One of the things that makes me leery of reading female authors in pulp fiction is that they fill their novels with sex.  Why is that? Males are supposed to be the sex-driven gender. But in novels, female authors seem to confuse sex for romance. There’s vast amounts of psychological speculation we could get into with this point. However, the last “urban fantasy” book I read was co-authored by a male and female author – and there was no sex in it. There were some vague innuendos and a few hints, but no sex. In this book here, Magic to the Bone (entirely authored by a female), there are at least two lengthy sex scenes. I’ll be honest – I don’t read them. I skip ahead a few pages.

I like some of the concepts that Monk is playing with in this novel because they are fresh and interesting. There are no vampires (thank God!) and there are no werewolves (thank God!).  Instead there is this concept of turning magic into something like a municipal utility. You know, like electricity and water. This is cool. And sure, there are hints that maybe there are magic users that preceed this sort of utility and that operate outside of this municipal faculty. But these are interesting concepts, to be sure. There is sort of a “conservation of energy law” that ties into the story. I think there is some work to be done with all of these concepts…. but this is Monk’s first book and, well, its not Scientific American. Its pulp urban fantasy.  Still it was nice to read something that didn’t involve vampires.

The main character can be amusing at points. (I don’t know how many more times she could say “Hells!” when exasperated, though.) Allie Beckstrom is not as assertive and intelligent as some of the typical female heroines, though. I mean, she’s stubborn and catty, but sometimes she’s pretty daft. There are times that she does some dumb things. For the first quarter of the book, I was slightly frustrated because she makes retarded choices and seemed to be really running in circles. Literally. However, by the end of the book, she seemed to develop a bit more, which is to be expected. I liked the other characters fairly well. The villains were a little underdeveloped, but I suspect Monk was just laying the foundation for more books.  I was interested in Violet, Allie’s stepmother, and Cody, the real victim in the book. And there is a cute kitten in the book that stole my heart.

Overall, this is a solid first book. And I would read further in the series.

3 stars

Magic Bites

Magic BitesI recently read “Magic Bites” by Ilona Andrews, published in 2007.

I read this book because I am starting to work my way through a list of what is called “urban fantasy.”  This term provoked an interesting discussion on the over-genre-ization of novels these days.  What the heck is “urban fantasy?”  I know what people mean by it, but is it really something? Really? Isn’t it just fantasy or fiction?

Anyway, Ilona Andrews is actually:  two writers, Ilona and Gordon. From their website we learn:  “We write urban fantasy, an odd hybrid of a genre that includes elements of mystery, fantasy, and horror. Our stories are set in a modern setting that has a touch of paranormal to it.”  Frankly, I wasn’t very surprised when I found out that its a team of authors.  Somehow, though they do write seamlessly together, there was something about the writing in this little novel that made me think that either the author did a LOT of research on some very minor details, or the editor really was picky in some places. Turns out its not all culled from one brain!

Magic Bites is the first novel in the Kate Daniels series. The website says: “Atlanta would be a nice place to live, if it weren’t for magic… One moment magic dominates, and cars stall and guns fail. The next, technology takes over and the defensive spells no longer protect your house from monsters. Here skyscrapers topple under onslaught of magic; werebears and werehyenas prowl through the ruined streets; and the Masters of the Dead, necromancers driven by their thirst of knowledge and wealth, pilot blood-crazed vampires with their minds. In this world lives Kate Daniels. Kate likes her sword a little too much and has a hard time controlling her mouth. The magic in her blood makes her a target, and she spent most of her life hiding in plain sight. But when Kate’s guardian is murdered, she must choose to do nothing and remain safe or to pursue his preternatural killer. Hiding is easy, but the right choice is rarely easy…”

Its an easy summer-read book. I mean, you do not have to muscle through this one. Which is nice. I was truly afraid it would be very… how can we describe it?… very romancy/girlie.  And sure, the main character is a chick, but she’s not some damsel in distress full of love-struck big hearts. And that is very much a good thing for the book.  Look at Kate’s picture on the front cover. It is an OK cover; drawn by Chad Michael Ward.

The enemies, villains and allies are formed through alliances that seem, more or less, to want to keep the status quo.  One fantastic thing about the story is that vampires are not some neo-Gothic, emo romancy types. Vampires in this series are entirely monsters – basically like zombie insects. And this is so wonderful because I am sick of the ridiculous characterization of vampires as “cool”. (Twilight/True Blood)  Anyway, I am interested in reading more about the beasts.

Some may be a bit confused or dissatisfied with the start of the book – feeling its very in media res. I suppose it does start that way, but its okay, and it works for the book. Overall, this is not the best urban fantasy series start – there are other similar series I would read further in before I got to book two here. I guess it lives up to the fluffy entertainment it is meant to be in a rather average way.

3 stars

The Electric Church

The Electric Church

The Electric Church cover

Last night I finished The Electric Church by Jeff Somers.  It is the first in the Avery Cates series, and the first I’ve read by Jeff Somers. It was published in 2007.

From the back of the book:   Avery Cates is scared. He’s up against the Monks: cyborgs with human brains, enhanced robotic bodies, and a small arsenal of advanced weaponry.

I enjoyed this book because the storyline was both original and familiar.  I liked the familiar feel of a ruined civilization, overwrought with the high-tech enhanced tools of a society split sharply between the haves and the have-nots.  I liked the storyline that put a “church” (that, in this story, has nothing at all to do with an actual religious organization) which is ruled by machines and makes converts by physically killing them and repackaging their brains.  This is really cool noir sci-fi, high-tech, futuristic dystopia stuff. And I loved it for that.

Avery Cates is a decent character. Developed enough that one can follow the story, and yet, we are not told everything about him immediately upon meeting him.  The rest of the cast of characters are definitely interesting and unique.  The overarching point of the book is that in this ruinous society, one cannot get “too close” or make “lasting friendships” because its all a struggle to survive to the next day.  There is a sense that the people Cates meets and interacts with are based solely on utilitarian needs.

This is the first in a series – I think there are three books in the series – and I would happily read the rest of the series.  I can appreciate that the ending of the book sets up the next book nicely, but the ending here could also, in fact, just simply be an ending to a standalone book as well.  There are no good guys/bad guys, per se, so to say the “good guys” won is also a bit of a stretch.  The trick to Cates’ character is that he has rules – he may be a criminal and a Gunner (mercenary), but he is not simply a thug without any moral code.

The concept of the Electric Church and their Monks is really neat, and I would love to see that concept expanded and developed.

Some parts of the book, though, were a bit repetitive.  How many times do we need to be told that Cates is 27 years old?  Once the point has been made, I do not think we need to be told every other chapter.  Also, some of the descriptions of the “city” and life in the ruined society are repetitive. I understand wanting to emphasize the scavenging struggle that occurs in the remnants of civilization, however, Somers seems to think each description is the first time he told us.  Its not horrible, but I feel it was slightly repetitive. I get it, now tell me something more.

Overall the story reminds me of the ruined society in the latter Terminator and Matrix movies – which I liked.

4 stars