Spellcaster, George Bachman

Spellcaster, George Bachman

Spellcaster

Spellcaster is an intriguing mix of fantasy and steampunk, opening in a Victorian-style London amid a group of debutantes from an eclectic mix of backgrounds. Christine, also called Ophelia or Tom-cat by her adoptive sisters, turns out to have a hidden talent for witchcraft. While manoeuvring through appearance-conscious London society, she is also trying to find out why she isn’t alone in her own head, and why most of the mystics in the city won’t help her.

For me, one of the challenges with the story is that the read is chaotic. Every character comes equipped with at least one nick-name, one given name, and one (or more) formal names depending on the situation, and there is a wide cast of secondary characters, all of whom will also be called by any one of several names or a title when they show up. Christine’s viewpoint is frequently coloured or overlaid completely with visions or nightmares, and the fact that she is the main protagonist, and has an entire hidden life of spellcraft that she lies about to everyone around her, doesn’t help to keep the progression of the plot clear.

At about halfway through the book, Christine finally finds out who is in her head with her; a misogynistic, highly focussed knight from the end of the French Dark Ages. At about two-thirds of the way through the book, the French knights, or rather knight and squire at that point, manage to extricate themselves from Christine’s life, and that is, very abruptly, the last that you see of the character in whose head you have spent the first two-thirds of the book. The latter part of the book is written from the point of view of one of the knights, fighting a supernatural enemy with a magical artifact that they somehow found out about and tracked down at some point prior to their abrupt appearance in the Victorian era.

In short, I found that the plot, once I managed to disinter it, was inventive and worthwhile. It was, however, badly let down by the technical side of the story-telling, which is frankly a great shame. Some work to provide the reader with the context of both the timelines, consistent naming of the characters in the plot, and some pruning of the descriptive passages would immediately catapult this book two stars higher for me.

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Stone and a Hard Place, R L King

Stone and a Hard Place, R L King

Stone and a Hard Place (The Alastair Stone Chronicles Book 1)

Stone and a Hard Place is a story of magic, academia, and a demon for good measure. Alastair Stone has a quiet job teaching Occult Studies, to classes mostly composed of would-be horror authors. Unlike his colleagues, Alastair actually knows what he’s talking about; he’s a mage. It’s a fact he goes to some lengths to keep hidden, and he’s got pretty good at his cover. However, a late-night call from an old friend lands him with something he’d never seriously contemplated having: an apprentice. After that, it’s only a matter of time until Alastair finds himself facing personal and demonical upheaval in his quiet life – and the odds aren’t stacked in his favour.

R L King’s writing offers memorable characters with their own goals, histories and conflicts, and a setting straight out of urban legend, all spiced with touches of well-timed humour. The tension develops very neatly, with the layer of subterfuge and deceit adding depth to the main plot, and villains and victims who come to vibrant life in the pages. I found Stone and a Hard Place had everything a good urban fantasy needs, including a really credible magic system. The writing style is excellent, making it very easy to lose yourself in the story. I’ll definitely be making my way through the rest of this series.

End of a Girl, Nia Sinjorina

End of a Girl, Nia Sinjorina

End of a Girl (Folio 55 Book 1)

Nia Sinjorina’s End of a Girl is the story of a teenage Molly Peterson, at school in an English comprehensive that she hates, told alternately from her own diaries and the point of view of one of her acolytes, tasked to write her history in the last days before Earth’s defeat. Molly, the class misfit, finds herself unexpectedly developing powers beyond her understanding; powers to destroy, but also powers to communicate…and powers to raise the dead. As the incidents become more public, Molly finds herself teetering on the edge of exposure, with not one, but two, covert organisations desperate to get their hands on her.

End of a Girl offers a story written from two very different viewpoints; one from the perspective and in the dialect of an English teen, and the other from the point of view of an acolyte who has passed beyond the use of language to communicate, and whose writing style is dense, obscured by the attempt to fit full-spectrum mental communication into marks on a page. While the container of the story is distinctive and well-done, the high level of the language may discourage some readers from giving the book the attention it deserves. Certainly an interesting and unique take on the genre.

Prophecy, Petra Landon

Prophecy, Petra Landon

The Prophecy (Saga of the Chosen Book 1)

Tasia has just, finally, made a place for herself, off everyone’s radar in San Francisco. She’s got two low-level jobs and an apartment in a crappy part of town. She’s registered as about the lowest level of magic user that can still work, and so far, no one’s asking inconvenient questions – up until a side-gig cleaning magical residue leads her to do the powerful Shifter clans a favour. That leads Tasia into a series of events that bring her into more and more danger of blowing her cover – and an increasingly tangled relationship with the enigmatic Alpha Protector.

The Prophecy is an entertaining blend of urban fantasy and paranormal romance, set in a San Francisco where the magical community lives side by side with normal humans, keeping their differences hidden by whatever means necessary. I felt that more clarity around exactly why Tasia was attempting to hide, and from whom, would have strengthened the story; in hiding because bad things was really the plot summary I walked away with on that score. Some of the character reactions also came across as inconsistent, which is a shame as the story is complex and well-paced, and offers a number of points of interest to the reader. I really feel with a little more polishing and character development this could easily make a five-star review. Fans of urban fantasy, and especially those who enjoy a spunky but submissive protagonist, will definitely find this an enjoyable read.

Seeds of Hatred, Christian Nadeau

Seeds of Hatred, Christian Nadeau

Seeds of Hatred (Scions Awakened Book 1)

Marac is an assassin, and unlike most of his previous colleagues, not a dead one. Alex is a Lightbearer, one of the rare, gifted members of a cult that the Brotherhood reviles. Soren is a Brotherhood soldier, one of the few born of the nobility that the Brotherhood seeks to control. Each, in their own way, has been affected by the rise of an ancient enemy, and each, in their own way, has chosen to fight something that most of society doesn’t believe still exists.

Seeds of Hatred is written in the classic epic fantasy style; ancient enemy awakening, chosen few leading the fight, unexpected allies, magic that no one has seen in generations, you name it, the book has it. The world-building is solid, with a magic system that supports the plot, and an interesting take on a type of magic that requires drinking blood, as opposed to the classic vampire. For me, the characters were the weak point in the story; while some of the back-stories were very strong, on the whole the gender stereotypes were so ingrained that some actions and reactions were regrettably predictable. Alex was the only character who managed to partially break free of the mould, and even she was gifted early on with a male protector to explain the world to her. There are also quite a few viewpoints, leaving me in a few spots having to flip back to check whose story I’d just arrived in. However, I have to give this book points on pacing: I didn’t find myself fading out or being tempted to skip parts – the various plot lines were well-maintained and the continuity was good. This is a book that epic fantasy fans will find worth the read.

Who By Water, Victoria Raschke

Who By Water, Victoria Raschke

Who By Water (Voices of the Dead Book 1)

Jo Wiley is one of those anomalies: an American living in Slovenia. With a group of friends, she manages a tea house in Ljubljana and keeps the various aspects of her social life strictly separate. When Jo accompanies a friend to the opening of a new archaeological exhibit in town, the worst she’s expecting to have to deal with is being polite to a slimy bar owner who fancies himself irresistible to women. She’s not expecting to see one of her lovers murdered, or to suddenly receive a warning from her dead father…

Who by Water layers realistic fantasy and fantastic reality over the ancient setting of Slovenia’s capital, weaving in allusions to the Catholic Inquisition, witch hunters, and older than both, the Roman settlement of Iulia Aemona that preceded the city. Victoria Raschke’s writing provides an eminently plausible scenario of ancient artifacts and psychic abilities drawn to Ljubljana’s historic nexus, with Jo Wiley, our pragmatic protagonist, front and centre with a talent for speaking to the dead that she wasn’t aware she possessed. I found the pacing of the novel was excellent, and while some of the characters hinted at far more backstory than was actually explored in the book, the story was well-written and a highly enjoyable start to the series.