Novel Review: Blood Rites [The Dresden Files, #6] by Jim Butcher

Blood Rites (The Dresden Files, #6)Blood Rites by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The modern day Chicago wizarding detective, Harry Dresden, throws himself headlong, as he is wont to do, into yet another deadly situation making himself the target for multiple supernatural nasties. The brilliance of this series doesn’t reside in the details of the individual cases but in the continual development and enrichment of both the urban fantasy world and in the abilities, mindset, and personal connections of protagonist Harry Dresden.

When the series started, Harry was a loner running half-afoul of the law and the ruling wizarding counsels. He quickly added Karren Murphy of the Chicago PD to his friends list as they investigated supernatural crimes that found their way into non-supernatural awareness. Other cases, but still including the increasingly less skeptical Murphy, took place entirely in the realm of the Fae or the war between the wizards and the vampires.

This installment manages many things for the series. It opens the closed book on orphaned Harry’s family. His mother’s history comes to tantalizing light. A half-sibling emerges from the ether. And seriously concerning enlightenment is cast upon Harry’s foster-parentage. This is very welcome development.

Also, the world of the vampires along with the cultures and politics gets blown open in unexpected ways. While previously established that the 3 “courts” of vampires are very culturally different, here it’s seen that they are unrelated species barely tolerating each other. This case revolves around the lust-feeding, emotion-devouring foppish White Court vamps. They may not touch blood, and they don’t, but they are no less toxic. Making them major players in the world of porn production is just plain fun–no need to stalk prey if they’ll come willingly to you . . .

I’ve previously read the following Dresden books and stories:
     Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1)–4 stars
     Fool Moon (The Dresden Files, #2)–4 stars
     Grave Peril (The Dresden Files, #3)–4 stars
     Summer Knight (The Dresden Files, #4)–4 stars
     Death Masks (The Dresden Files, #5)–4 stars
     “Last Call” (The Dresden Files, #10.6)–5 stars
     “Love Hurts” (The Dresden Files, #11.5)–5 stars

 

 

 

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Short Story Review: “Useless Magic” by Andrew Peery

4 of 5 stars.

Family is complicated. Small towns that emulate an extended family can also be complicated. Not everyone expresses themselves well nor in a manner compatible with how others would wish to be treated. Nor are peoples’ talents and interests the same throughout the group. But it can also be those same differences that make the relationship or family or small town more interesting.

John’s dad knew quite a few magic spells. None were overly practical, but they could prove entertaining at times. Especially if he wasn’t trying so hard. His dad wasn’t known for expressing himself well or being overly nice. He was also overtly disappointed that each of his children could perform exactly 1 magic spell. One could make flowers grow. One could change the temperature by a few degrees. And one could make a quiet bubble of a few feet diameter.

Others magic families found the same things–the next generation could only master a single random spell. The second generation could do none-of-the-above.

What a beautiful metaphor for the many changes between the generations and the transition from rural America to modern urbanized America . . .

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Obsidian Spire” by Molly Elizabeth Atkins

3 of 5 stars.

Fairy tales and folk tales often present a bit of the fantastical or magical along with a quest and perhaps a suggested moral. Nuanced character development is usually lacking as tropes of heroes and nobles [usually unquestioned in their born privilege] come with a ready package. This tight tale is no exception.

An ancient ominous tower of obsidian looms over a small idyllic village. Then, rumors of threats coming from the long abandoned tower scares the peasants into inactivity. Young Lady Varga, daughter of the ruling Lord, assumes the quest of finding out the truth and perhaps dealing with any threats to the village therein. If only she can rise above her own privileged arrogance.

Only one person volunteers to lead Lady Varga into the woods and up the mountain to the obsidian tower, a scrappy young guy by the name of Fiske armed only with a fishing spear. [He’s the only other named character in the tale.] Lady Varga is not impressed with what she sees, but hasn’t much choice in guides.

No surprises lurk in this story, but a beast up the mountain is surprisingly original and almost sympathetic.

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Acquisition” by Jake Marley

2 of 5 stars.

Ghost stories come in a wide variety of flavors. In this contemporary tale, ghosts [ie souls, spirits] are collected and sold to dealers. As macabre as that seems, there’s also moral implications as the ghosts, to a limited degree, can communicate and interact with the living. And yet, the ghosts are given no choice in their binding and later selling.

The tale follows a ghost hunter as he works to bind the “hitchhiker.” Throughout the tale, he allows the memory of his wife’s guiding advise to steer him through the process. The “absence” of Karen despite her words in his mind is all the more striking considering his profession . . .

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Salted by Aaron Galvin

Salted (Salt series, #1)Salted by Aaron Galvin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Folklores around the world tell of transmorphic sea creatures shifting into human shape and blending in with the unaware local human populous: mermaids [merrows, sirens], selkies [silkies], and kelpies to name some more common forms. Often, a form of seduction transpires between the folk-creature and some humans. The deceptions often escalate to kidnapping, rape and slavery of either humans lured into the drowning sea or sea-folk trapped into a terrestrial existence until said time that they can escape back into the sea.

This imaginative urban fantasy creates a rich and elaborate world of sea-folk and humans in a modern setting. Selkies, seal people, are an enslaving society with a strict caste system. The form of seal one can transform into matters. With leopard seals [“lepers”] being the most dangerous. Though sea lions [“racers”] and elephant seals can be quite formidable, too. No less than 7 species of seal/selkie appear. But more importantly, most are enslaved. Others are slave owners, slavers, runaway slave catchers, and slave abolitionists. Humans are as oblivious to the horrors around them as most people are today of the ongoing existence of modern human trafficking present still in the modern US and Europe.

To be clear, through a well-developed veneer of urban fantasy and folklore this is a story about modern slavery from many nuanced vantage points. And that is brilliant. It can also be quite disturbing to see the abuse, violence and heavily suggested rape.

As the opening volume to a series, the world construct will only get richer as other transmorphic folk are seen minimally but with the suggestion that the interactions and history between the selkies and the dolphin-folk merrows, orca-folk [“orcs”], and shark-folk [“nomads”] is equally as complex once one descends beneath the ocean’s surface.

Interestingly, some liberties are taken with the folk traditions. The young adult hero of the tale is an “orc”, unbeknownst to him, living in landlocked Indiana. So, sea-folk can be oblivious to their own status–for generations. Also, it’s suggested humans can be transformed into sea-folk, ie a non-selkie can become an enslaved selkie. Finally, though not elaborated, a form of glamour magic exists around the sea-folk such that humans cannot see a half-transformed merrow as anything other than a dolphin. Whereas, other sea-folk can see every stage of the transformation from dolphin form to mer to human.

This novel and series is recommended. I received my copy of this novel directly from the author.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Of Plagues and Priestesses by Logan Martell

Of Plagues and PriestessesOf Plagues and Priestesses by Logan Martell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A clear world-building fantasy, this novel paints nearly everything and everybody without nuanced shades of gray. The trio of Priestesses [the maiden, the mother and the crone] are everything good and righteous in the world. Their white light magic can revive the dead, purify water and cast out dark monsters and magic. Residing in the capital city of the central kingdom [Valorholme], their influence lords over all other realms. They’re also comically masochistic, self-righteously insufferable and largely unlikable as they impose their will on everybody.

The opposing nation of Briarcroft is depicted as all that is evil. Curiously, the sun never shines there and nothing but briars grow there despite lying just west of the mountains bordering Valorholme. Briarcroft understandably wants to bring the sun back to their land and to be freed from dependence on the whims of self-righteous Valorholme. Their reliance on dragons and ghouls to achieve their means are less noble.

The tale borrows heavily from Greek and Biblical mythos as it introduces unstoppable heroes of inhuman proportion. This includes wholesale attributing the Heruclean slaying of the Hydra to a living hero of this novel.

The narrative prefers to jump from epic confrontation to epic confrontation without character development. Substories with merit, such as the conflict between the royals and religious orders of Valorholme, are left unfilled. Characters slip from the narrative when they should not. And disjointed scenes sit uneasily within the tale such as the one-off vampire castle. Missing from this tale is a single character that feels relatable and real, if not likable.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Anthology Review: Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran

Weird Detectives: Recent InvestigationsWeird Detectives: Recent Investigations by Paula Guran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where urban fantasy and detective noir come together lies a fertile field to explore the human [and non-human] condition. The detectives themselves are often the fantastical variant. This collection brings together tales of a zombie, 2 vampire, 3 werewolf and 7+ wizarding detectives, among others, providing an external view of the modern human life. Also included are a couple supernatural Sherlock Holmes tales and a handful of ghost tales with a couple stretching all the way back to the Elizabethan era. The crimes are mostly murders which by nature shatter the accepted human social ethics.

This diversity of tales despite a common sub-genre is reflected in my top 3 each meriting 5-stars and in my “honorable mention” 3 earning 4-stars. I’ve reviewed and rated each of the 23 tales included.

–Jim Butcher’s “Love Hurts” [5 stars] depicts an intimate look at his Chicago-based wizarding detective, Harry Dresden, as he tries to stop a series of curse-induced love-suicides.
–Neil Gaiman’s “The Case of Death and Honey” [5 stars] tells a heart-felt Sherlock Holmes from a vantage beyond both Watson and Holmes.
–Charlaine Harris’ “Death by Dahlia” [5 stars] circumstantially places an ancient vampire in the role of detective when a political vampire coronation of sorts is disrupted by a murder.
–Patricia Briggs’ “Star of David” [4 stars] tells a familial tale when a werewolf mercenary is called upon by his 40-years estranged daughter.
Faith Hunter’s “Signatures of the Dead” [4 stars] pairs an elemental witch and her coven-family with a shapeshifter to solve an Appalachian vampire problem.
Jonathan Maberry’s “Like Part of the Family” [4 stars] depicts the canine-like loyalties and ethics of a werewolf evening the playing field in defense of domestic and sexual abuse survivors.

Also included are:
Bear, Elizabeth–“Cryptic Coloration”–3 stars
Bick, Ilsa J.–“The Key”–3 stars
Bowes, Richard–“Mortal Bait”–3 stars
Denton, Bradley–The Adakian Eagle–3 stars
Elrod, P. N.–“Hecate’s Golden Eye”–3 stars
Green, Simon R.–“The Nightside, Needless to Say”–3 stars
Huff, Tanya–“See Me”–3 stars
Kiernan, Caitlin R.–“The Maltese Unicorn”–3 stars
Monette, Sarah–“Impostors”–3 stars
Parks, Richard–“Fox Tails”–3 stars
Vaughn, Carrie–“Defining Shadows” [Kitty Norville]–3 stars
Cameron, Dana–“Swing Shift”–2 stars
Carl, Lillian Stewart–“The Necromancer’s Apprentice”–2 stars
Clark, Simon–“Sherlock Holmes and the Diving Bell”–2 stars
Gustainis, Justin–“Deal Breaker”–2 stars
Lansdale, Joe R.–“The Case of the Stalking Shadow”–2 stars
Meikle, William–“The Beast of Glamis”–2 stars

 
 
 
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