Category Archives: 4 out of 5

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.

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Chapter 7: Fear

First real review in awhile.  I’m still not sure I like the format I’ve been using but I’m also not quite sure how to tweak it either (mostly because I get sick of copy/pasting the format every time I got to post a review).  So, gonna change things up a little today…or try to.  We’ll see since old habits are hard to break.

Anyway, today’s review is on Michael Grant’s latest release: Fear.  

Don’t be afraid. At least the flesh eating bugs are gone.

Fear is the fifth book in the Gone novel series, a series that is planned for six books.  At some point I should probably go back and talk about the first four books, but as I’ve stated before on this blog: I review as I read them.  But, a quick summary for those of you who AREN’T familiar with Grant’s series, Gone is a young adult dystopian series set in present day California.  The story begins when everyone over the age of 15 vanishes from a 20 mile radius of the town, leaving behind a bunch of scared kids and a dome that means the children are now all cut off from the outside world.  Things, as you can imagine, take a very dark turn from there.  The series has been described in the past as “Lord of the Flies meets Stephen King” and I tend to repeat that summary a lot because it is a VERY good short summary of what to expect from this book.  I’m sure you can guess where the LotF aspects come in, but the King aspects are apparent when you start to realize that the dome isn’t the first strange thing to happen to this town in California.  Grant gives us a series with mutant animals, cannibalism, radioactive Eldritch abominations, and kids with special powers fighting against the kids without special powers.

The Gone novel series quickly became one of my favorite examples of dystopian literature and Fear proved to be just as exciting as its predecessors.  It follows the same layout as books before it: jumping between character scenes and starting each chapter with a countdown to an unspecified event.  I will say that I’m still not a fan of the jumping between characters aspect of these novels, but really that is its one weakness and it DOES tend to stick to the same handful of characters when it switches.  The confusing part, however, is when it switches mid-chapter, which it does…a lot.  However, on the plus side, it does give you a sense of how one character’s actions effect the actions of another who, int turn, effects the actions of another and so on.  My favorite thing about the series has always been the countdown at the start of each chapter.  It really helps to up the tension in the novels because you never can be sure what the countdown is FOR, only that each chapter decreases in time.  There’s something about seeing a chapter go from “5 hours, 15 minutes” to “3 hours” that just really gets your heart racing.

Fear itself deals with Sam and the others’ continuing adventures inside the FAYZ.  The dome around them is starting to change and the communities have been split between those that still live near the beach with Albert and Cain and those that have moved to the lake with Sam.  Everyone is, of course, still dealing with the bugs epidemic of the last book and Astrid is still in shock over what she did to her own brother: Little Pete.  Diana is pregnant with a rapidly growing fetus who is the child of Cain and a mysterious force is messing with some of the children, turning them into abominations.  Worst of all the gaiaphage is starting to stir again and seems to be deeply afraid about the changes occurring to the dome as much as anyone else.  This is also the first book where we get to see outside the dome and find out what the parents have been up to and how things are being handled by the world.

I can’t say for sure if this was my favorite of the series, but it was certainly a fun buildup.  You can tell this is a penultimate book because a lot of things are set-up that you know are going to be paid off in the sequel (Diana’s baby, the dome becoming transparent, Little Pete’s transformation, etc.).  I think, however, that if you have liked the previous installments of the series that you will find a great deal of enjoyment in this one.  As usual it is EXTREMELY difficult to put down and I know I personally finished it in about a day’s time.

If any of this interests you, I suggest starting from the first novel because this is NOT a series you can jump in halfway through.  In fact, it’s kind of difficult to talk about if you haven’t read the series either.  I think my favorite part about this particular installment was finding out just what has been going on OUTSIDE the dome and then seeing the parents’ reactions when they get to see what their kids have been up to.  I can only IMAGINE the kind of horror THAT’S going to bring, especially since by the book’s end the kids are now like a bunch of fish in an aquarium.  That’s going to present some interesting things in the last installment, I can already tell.

Rating: 4 out of 5 crazy, psychopathic children