Archive for the 'Urban Fantasy' Category

01
Mar
08

Mark Henry: Happy Hour of the Damned

Seattle. One minute you’re drinking a vanilla breve, the next, some creepy old dude is breathing on you, turning you into a zombie. And that’s just for starters. Now, the recently deceased Amanda Feral is trying to make her way through Seattle’s undead scene with style (mortuary-grade makeup, six-inch stilettos, Balenciaga handbag on sale) while satisfying her craving for human flesh (Don’t judge. And no, not like chicken.) and decent vodkatinis. Making her way through a dangerous world of cloud-doped bloodsuckers, reapers, horny and horned devils, werewolves, celebrities, and PR-obsessed shapeshifters–not to mention an extremely hot bartender named Ricardo–isn’t easy. And the minute one of Amanda’s undead friends disappears after texting the word, “help” (The undead–so dramatic!) she knows the afterlife is about to get really ugly.Something sinister is at hand. Someone or something is hellbent on turning Seattle’s undead underworld into a place of true terror. And this time, Amanda may meet a fate a lot worse than death…

I like that Amanda is a zombie, rather than your typical vampire. From a girl’s point of view, being a zombie can be rather…icky, despite not sweating and not having a period.

But I think it’s part of what makes Happy Hour of the Damned both fun and real (well, as real as urban fantasy can get anyway), the way the icky bits are handled, like what does Amanda do when her arm is sliced open and zombies can’t heal? 😉

THe book itself starts off very well, then it starts to slide towards the end. The plot was tied up pretty neatly, but at the same time, it barely makes the mark. Not atypical of most fiction debuts.

And the footnotes annoy me. There are way, way, way too many. I think a good half of the pages in the book have them. Too much of a good thing, maybe? They were cute for awhile.

On the other hand, it’s a book that’s hip in a different way from the typical dark and slightly goth and alternative sensibility that most urban fantasy of late has.

Happy Hour of the Damned rates 3.5 out of 5.

25
Jan
08

Justin Gustainis: Black Magic Woman

Supernatural investigator Quincey Morris and his partner, white witch Libby Chastain, are called in to help free a desperate family from a deadly curse that appears to date back to the Salem Witch Trials. To release the family from danger they must find the root of the curse, a black witch with a terrible grudge that holds the family in her power.

The pursuit takes them to the mysterious underworlds of Boston, San Francisco, New Orleans and New York, stalking a prey that is determined to stay hidden. After surviving a series of terrifying attempts on their lives, the two find themselves drawn inexorably towards Salem itself — and the very heart of darkness.

Black Magic Woman is striking in that it has a world feels remarkably more real than most urban fantasy settings, which is a statement of how seamlessly Justin has woven the supernatural and the real together.

It is a book almost-painstakingly crafted together, but is so readable that Justin makes it look easy. Absolutely the kind of book that you pick up and finish in one sitting.

However, Black Magic Woman is one of those books that are ‘flat.’ Some of the interesting scenes that should have punched simply did not, such as the one where Libby reveals something intensely personal or the sex scene (I think there was only the one). Everything came together in a neat little package, including Quincey’s fabulous personal history (one of the highlights of the book for me), except that I think it should have had more of an emotional punch.

That said, you’ll be definitely be seeing more of Justin Gustainis soon, just like Jim Butcher says on the cover. He is simply too good not to.

Black Magic Woman rates 4 out of 5.

Disclosure: This book was sent to me.

10
Nov
07

Jeaniene Frost: Halfway To The Grave

Half-vampire Catherine Crawfield is going after the undead with a vengeance, hoping that one of these deadbeats is her father – the one responsible for ruining her mother’s life. Then she’s captured by Bones, a vampire bounty hunter, and is forced into an unlikely partnership.

In exchange for help finding her father, Cat agrees to train with the sexy night stalker until her battle reflexes are as sharp as his fangs. She’s amazed she doesn’t end up as his dinner – are there actually good vampires? Pretty soon Bones will have her convinced that being half-dead doesn’t have to be all bad. But before she can enjoy her status as kick-ass demon hunter, Cat and Bones are pursued by a group of killers. Now Cat will have to choose a side…and Bones is turning out to be as tempting as any man with a heartbeat.

I like a heroine who goes after her enemies with the intention to kill, and succeeds, and Catherine Crawfield is certainly that. But I do wonder: No matter how much she wanted to kill vampires, actually killing one should have some sort of impact on her psyche, surely? Unless she’s sociopathic, in which case this book automatically gets an extra 0.5 points.

I disliked the inclusion of your typical, urban fantasy “female protagonist was badly hurt emotionally by the male(s) in her life” backstory. But at least she wasn’t raped, I suppose.

It’s Bones who kicks the book into high gear though, because that’s when Cat has someone to play against, with and for. IOW, she’s got someone fight with, play with, and do the dirty thing with. *g* Bones is very well-drawn, especially in a first-person novel where another character’s the viewpoint character, and that helps pull the book together.

While I want to emphasize the fact that Halfway To The Grave is an urban fantasy novel, not a romance no matter what it says on the spine, I also want to say that I liked the ending, even though it does feel rather like a cliffhanger. I think it rings more true than if the usual thing was to happen, and I can’t wait to read the next book.

Halfway To The Grave rates 3.5 out of 5.

Full disclosure: Jeaniene Frost sent me the book.

30
Oct
07

Jackie Kessler: The Road To Hell

Hell hath no fury like a succubus scorned

Jesse may no longer be a succubus, but she’s got a Hell of a past. She wants to come clean about her infernal history with Paul Hamilton, her white-knight-in-training lover, except he’d never believe her. Just like some people are worth being (shudder) monogamous for, some secrets are worth keeping. So Jesse keeps mum—until three of her former associates strong-arm her into returning to the Pit. Now, unless Jesse faces off against the King of Hell, she’ll lose Paul’s immortal soul. If she’d known love was this tough, she never would have turned her back on Lust…

The Hell On Earth series takes a more serious turn in this book.

It’s a better book than Hell’s Belles in many respects. TRTH relies much less on the strength and appeal of Jezebel’s voice than HB did, which also makes it a book that is much more rereadable than TRTH.

The pacing is better, giving the reader space to breathe and to make the connections that turn TRTH into something more than a funny, romp book.

But for all that Jackie has improved as a writer, TRTH just didn’t have the spark Hell’s Belles did.

The Road To Hell rates 4 out of 5.

PS Jackie sent the ARC to me.

30
Jul
07

Jeanne C. Stein: Blood Drive

Anna Strong is a vampire caught between two worlds. She clings to what makes her human, her family, her job, her lover. But the pull of the undead is a siren song becoming impossible to resist. She discovers she has a niece, Trish, a child caught up in the worst kind of human nightmare. To save Trish, Anna may have to surrender to the animal side of her nature. Concepts of good and evil are no longer clearly defined as Anna must determine who is the real monster—a human who preys on children or the vampire who tries to save them.

What makes Blood Drive stand out is Jeanne‘s handling of Anna’s journey. It’s a more nuanced and complex exploration of what immortality means to someone newly immortal, paralleled by Anna travelling deeper into the world that she is now part of.
My main gripe about the series is that the male characters in the series are rather flat, though this has improved since the first book, The Becoming, especially with the introduction of Daniel Frey. But this detracts rather less from the book than it should, perhaps because this book is first and foremost about Anna Strong.

Blood Drive is one of the best urban fantasy novels I’ve read in awhile, and I can’t wait for the next book, The Watcher, to be released.

Blood Drive rates 4 out of 5.

Full Disclosure: Jeanne sent me this book, and I have interviewed her recently. There is also another extract of Blood Drive available here.

07
May
07

Shanna Swendson: Damsel Under Stress

To-do: Stop the bad guys. Rescue the wizard. Find the perfect outfit for New Year’s Eve.

At last, Owen Palmer, the dreamboat wizard at Magic, Spells, and Illusions, Inc., has conjured up the courage to get Katie Chandler under the mistletoe at the office holiday party. But just when it looks like Katie has found her prince, in pops her inept fairy godmother, Ethelinda, to throw a wand into the works. Ethelinda’s timing couldn’t be worse. A plot hatched by MSI’s rogue ex-employees, Idris and his evil fairy gal pal Ari, threatens to expose the company’s secrets–and the very existence of magic itself. Even worse, it could also mean the end of Katie’s happily-ever-after.

Now Katie and Owen must work side by side (but alas, not cheek to cheek) to thwart the villains’ plans. Braving black-magic-wielding sorceresses, subway-dwelling dragons, lovelorn frog princes, and even the dreaded trip to meet Owen’s parents at Christmas, Katie and her beau are in a battle to beat Idris at his own sinister game. All mischief and matters of the heart will come to a head at a big New Year’s Eve gala, when the crystal ball will drop, champagne will pour, and Katie will find herself truly spellbound.

As much as I was looking forward to Damsel Under Stress, I was also afraid that it would suffer what I call Third Book Syndrome and be a rehashing of books one and two.

It’s anything but.

On sheer impact alone, this books tops books one and two, and not just because of the ending (peek at the last page first and I’ll come after you). Shanna Swendson‘s upped the stakes and she’s written a book worthy of those stakes.

It’s not the kind of book I’ve come to expect from her. I reread the first two Enchanted, Inc books because Katie feels like a friend. I didn’t tear open the envelope (Shanna sent me an ARC) expecting a book that took risks.

But boy, have those risks paid off!

This rates 5 out of 5.

21
Mar
07

Patricia Briggs: Blood Bound

Under the rule of science, there are no witch burnings allowed, no water trials or public lynchings. In return, the average law-abiding, solid citizen has little to worry about from the things that go bump in the night. Sometimes I wish I was an average citizen…

Mechanic Mercy Thompson has friends in low places–and in dark ones. And now she owes one of them a favor. Since she can shapeshift at will, she agrees to act as some extra muscle when her vampire friend Stefan goes to deliver a message to another of his kind.

But this new vampire is hardly ordinary–and neither is the demon inside of him…

It took me awhile to get into this book. I must have read the first 2 chapters half a dozen times!

I think the plot from the blurb didn’t interest me much, though I did enjoy reading the book.

I’m actually more interested in the ‘love triangle’ than the book’s plot. Samuel! *sigh* I also do think that’s the only overarching plotline developed in Blood Bound.

This rates 3 out of 5.