Category Archives: Urban Fantasy

Chapter 10: Hard Magic

I realized it was time for another library run (despite probably still having books on my shelf at home I need to read) and picked up this little gem by chance.  Hard Magic by Laura Anne Gilman is exactly what I was looking for in terms of an urban fantasy novel involving a female protagonist and was everything that Night Shift lacked.  This was the first book in a relatively new series called “Paranormal Scene Investigations.”  As it says on the tin, this series is about a small, new group of magic users (called Talent) who use their magic (Current) to solve crime scenes created by other Talent users.  Set in NYC, our main character is Bonnie Torres, a young Talent with a knack for detail and trying to find her place in the world after living between Council and Lonejacks her entire life (Council and Lonejacks being two factions of the Talent community).

See those gem stones down there? Completely irrelevant to the story.

First, I’d like to say that Bonnie was a refreshing character to have after Jill.  She felt like a real person as opposed to just a stereotype of a “badass action chick.”  Jill runs around in ridiculous leather pants, trench coat, and all black and had a very limited personality.  Bonnie, on the other hand, had actual issues both female related and just plain human problems.  She dressed NORMAL and was actually struggling to get a job at the beginning of the novel.  Don’t get me wrong, I do like a “badass action chick”, but if that is all I can say about you at the end of the day then you MIGHT be a bit flat.  And, while it is true that Bonnie isn’t COMPLETELY fleshed out in this first novel, we do learn a lot about her and the key points of her personality and history.  I like having a more belieable female protagonist though.  She’s strong, independent, funny, and smart but she has her flaws as well since she’s stubborn, disregards authority, and can sometimes let her feelings cloud her judgement.  True, Bonnie does flirt and day dream about some of her co-workers, but the romance is barely present in this story and is more of a passing “man he’s hot” as opposed to “I want to jump his bones right this minute.”  It’s honestly refreshing and, again, completely believable.  Not to mention Bonnie is a bit of a pansexual anyway.

Plus, Hard Magic may be told from Bonnie’s POV, but several of the other characters are major players in this book (which is probably why it’s not called “The Case Files of Bonnie Torres” or something).  Gilman does a great job of building an ensemble cast which is a little different from most urban fantasies I’ve read recently where there is the main protagonist who usually plays lone wolf (but ends up getting a few side character support along the way).  I loved each and every character in this series from Nick to Pietr to Sharon, Nifty, and “The Guys.”  And, again, while these characters are still part mystery, I do feel like I got to know some good things about them and have a desire to learn more.

While all of the characters are great and very realistic, I will say that the overall story left something to be desired.  It’s a little slow at points since not only are we establishing the universe and the laws of magic in this world, but the characters themselves are setting up something entirely new: the Private, Unaffiliated, Paranormal Investigations (PUPI).  A good first half of the book is the characters learning to work together and figuring out just what they can do with Current and crime investigation.  This is NOT a story that begins in medias res, the organization is brand new and we the readers get to experience its creation along with the characters which is kind of fun.  Still, a real case doesn’t crop up until several chapters into the book and the case itself is never completely solved.   I believe it might be in the next installation or, at the very least, the same killer will strike again.  However, that’s not to say that ALL the loose ends are left as loose ends.  Plus, it does make it a bit more realistic that a case isn’t completely solved since sometimes that happens in the real world.

I also have to say that I enjoyed the mythos set up in this series.  It reminds me a lot of the magic system in The Dresden Files in that Current is a source both inside a person and can be pulled from outside as well.  Not only that but Current users have to be careful that they don’t short out electronics when they’re doing their stuff.  Another aspect is, of course, the Council who don’t seem like they always have the individuals’ best interest at heart.  Of course, I might have also been drawing TDF comparisons because the characters kept traveling between NYC and Chicago.

Overall, I’d say if you’re looking for a good urban fantasy series with a decent female protagonist who ISN’T trying to screw a vampire/werewolf/demon, then this might be more your cup of tea.

I give this a 4 *sunglasses* out of 5 CSI parodies.

Chapter 9: Night Shift

After finishing up A Storm of Swords and that taking up a good chunk of my reading time, I have finally finished another book.  This was something that shouldn’t have taken me as long to read as it did, but for one reason or another I spent a few weeks on it.  I think part of the problem was ASoS was sucking me in and this one took awhile to grip my attention.  However, I know the first book in a series can often be the most difficult to get into so I pushed onward.  Which brings us to today’s review: Jill Kismet #1: Night Shift.

I’ve got nothing witty for this, sorry.

I’ve really been in the market for another supernatural series to grab me like The Dresden Files and Iron Druid Chronicles but with a female protagonist.  The tricky part is, of course, finding a series that DOESN’T rely too heavy on the “supernatural romance” that seems to plague supernatural books with female protagonists.  Oh, sure, it can HAVE romance, but I don’t want that to be the focus of the work.  Sorry, I would just rather READ about women kicking demon ass, not sleeping with it.

Which was the main reason I picked this book up.  The cover was promising because it did not feature our female lead posing provocatively with a sword and/or gun in her hand.  It was sitting on my shelf for some time, however, before I actually cracked it open.  The story is basically this: Jill is a hunter who takes care of demons/hellbreed.   She gets help from the police on occasion, as well as, Weres.  She has also made a contract with one of the hellbreed in order to gain extra abilities…a contract that comes with a price.  Her current job, however, is hunting down a rogue Were who seems to be working with a hellbreed, something that was thought to be an IMPOSSIBLE match.  And Jill has to do this while juggling with the lingering loss of her former teacher, her guilt, and budding feelings for a certain were-male.

So, as I stated previously, while I’m not a fan of supernatural romance (or paranormal romance as I think it’s called), this one worked for me.  Mostly because it is NOT the main focus of the book and it is NOT something that is immediate.  Jill has bigger things on her plate than who she wants to date and even when she DOES start to have feelings for the guy, there are other priorities first. This made me really like Jill because she wasn’t pining over some guy.

However, while the romance works, I will say that the set-up of this first novel is a little shaky.  I had trouble getting into it and Jill doesn’t seem to have much of a personality at first.  She’s about what you have come to expect a woman in this genre to be like and it would be nice if she had some traits OUTSIDE of her job as a hunter.  The author does eventually convey how damaged Jill is, but I think I had trouble getting sucked into this world because the first couple of chapters are just not that exciting.  I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily dull and it’s not like she sits down and tells you everything about the world she is setting up.  It’s just…not enticing.  It took me a few chapters to really feel like I should be invested in these characters and keep reading.

That being said, once the book got going it was good.  Some excellent characters in here, although I found myself wanting to learn more about the weres involved than the main character which is probably not a good sign.  I did start to like Jill however and sympathize with her.  In a way, she reminded me of what we know about Natasha/Black Widow in Avengers which helped keep my interest because I’m still dealing with an Avengers high.

I guess the question really is: Will I read the next book?  While I am not sure I would rank this with Iron Druid Chronicles or The Dresden Files just yet, it does hold promise.  I would like to see what Jill can do and, as I said, it’s difficult to judge a series based on the first book alone.  The first book is for establishing things, setting up the characters and the world, and getting our feet wet.  I might not read the next book any time SOON, but I do plan to follow the series at least a little longer.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Ass-Kicking Chicks Who Get Stuff DONE.

Chapter 6: Voices of Dragons

Haven’t posted in awhile and I apologize for that.  I’ve been busy with job hunting and interviews and the like.  I’m also thinking about tweaking my review style since this is still a kind of learning process.  But, we’ll see how it goes.  For now it’s time for a review!

And yet I see a bland chick featured on the cover more so than a dragon, disappointing.

Title: Voices of Dragons

Author: Carrie Vaughn

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Warnings: Death and teenagers

Time it Took to Read:  A few days

Times I’ve Read it Before: 0

Why I Picked This Book?

Many times when I go to my local library I will grab books that jump out at me.  My section at the library is mainly the YA section just because there’s a lot there that I’m not necessarily interested in BUYING but have decided it would be interesting to check out (this is how I wound up with I am Number Four as a side note).  This book I grabbed for a few reasons.  One, the author’s name was familiar to me (though at the time I couldn’t remember where from, turned out I had marked one of her books as “To Read” on goodreads.com).  Two, dragons.  I’m not sure I really need to elaborate on number two but suffice to say I LOVE dragons.  I love the concept of dragons and I especially love books about dragons where they talk and help out the protagonist and are generally awesome.  The premise seemed interesting too, but I’ll get to that in the next section.  Anyway, I picked this book mainly for the dragons and this is my first book by Carrie Vaughn so it’s not like I had that to go on aside from recognizing the name which I guess is something (especially if you know how bad I am with names).

What’s the Book About?

DRAGONS!  Okay, probably more about the teenager DEALING with a dragon than the dragons, but that is where this book is a bit misleading.  Anyway, the setup is that it’s a world like ours but with dragons.  Dragons are not mythological and in fact we sort of woke them up when we did all that bombing in World War II.  The dragons were kind of pissed off at the humans and things were not pretty for awhile, but then they made this treaty and everything sort of shifted into a Cold War deal.  Fast forward to “present day” and we meet our main character Kay.  Kay is a teenager and likes the outdoors much to the disappointment of her bff who is all about fashion and such (because that’s how all friendships work, there is always the outdoor girl and her disappointed ‘why don’t you wear a dress just ONCE’ friend).  Kay accidentally stumbles into Dragon Territory while climbing one day and meets a dragon.

The dragon and girl, as you can imagine, bond.  They learn about each other’s races and also figure out that they can fly together which was pretty cool (kinda like How To Train Your Dragon, but without the difficulty of lack of communication).  Actually, now that I think about it, this book plays out a lot like that movie (can’t speak for the book series How To Train Your Dragon, but you get my point).  Kay tries to keep her meetings with the dragon a secret but, of course, it eventually gets out and causes all  sorts of problems with the military and government of BOTH races.  Eventually, Kay decides the only way to bring peace to both is to offer herself up as a “sacrifice” and fly off with her dragon to a mysterious location that is supposed to be a safe haven for human/dragon friendships.

What did I think?

I’ll be honest, How To Train Your Dragon did this better.  True, HTTYD is set in viking times and the dragons can’t talk, but I honestly cared more about Hiccup than I did about Kay in this story.  Kay is just…Kay.  She’s not a very compelling character in my opinion and honestly I feel like she was…TOO teenagery (yes, red squiggle underline, I know that is not a word).  I just couldn’t relate to her and she just seemed like something pulled out of a typical teen movie (this wasn’t helped by her best friend and their “typical high school problems”).  I get that I’m not a teenager and that this character was not meant for me to relate to 100% but I feel like the author could have done a better job of conveying a HUMAN and not just a TEENAGER.  I just really could have cared less about Kay and her problems.

Our dragon on the other hand.  I wanted to learn MORE about him.  I think this story would have been 10 times more interesting if it had been more from his perspective and dealing with these strange humans.  In a book about dragons I want to hear more about the DRAGON issues than the human issues and we just don’t get that a lot here.  I think partly that was done to set up the mystery of the location and make the dragons seem like a threat, but the book is supposed to be about both parties coming to terms with each other and the only thing we get is the human POV.

Otherwise, it was an okay read.  I found it dragging at points and the real fun stuff doesn’t start until well into the book.  However, I think if you are in this for the dragons you might be better off finding another series because I just did not get much of a dragon fix out of this book.  I believe there is supposed to be a sequel though so hopefully that aspect improves in the next book.

Rating: 2 out of 5 dragons in the air.