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The Masks of Monsters, Narayan Liu

The Masks of Monsters, Narayan Liu

The Masks of Monsters

The Masks of Monsters, by Narayan Liu, is set in the late 1700s, when a young English nobleman, Darius Burke of Farnham, murders his father in revenge for his treatment of his family. Taking refuge from his deed in the forest, Darius meets a mysterious, winged being, who snatches him away from everything he knows. Surrounded by danger and wrapped around in political webs woven millennia before he was born, Darius faces the unknown from the moment he opens his eyes in the catacombs beneath Rennes, and there will be hard choices facing him if he wants to survive.

The Masks of Monsters offers a refreshing change from the glamorous vampire stereotype common to the genre, showcasing everything from vampires able to pass for human to skeletal, leathery-winged monstrosities drawn directly from medieval myth. The plot flirts with elements ranging from pre-Christian history to family in-fighting to the ethics of survival, but I found that the flurries of adjectives that punctuated the narrative, along with the occasional technical issues in the writing style, made it hard for me to stay in the story. However, for those looking for a vampire novel that breaks with the glitzy romance common to the genre, this novella is definitely worth the read.

Royal Deception, Denae Christine

Royal Deception, Denae Christine

Royal Deception

Denae Christine’s Royal Deception is an epic fantasy of shape-shifters and assassins and royalty, told primarily from the view point of the sickly young Prince Symon of Arton. Animal shifters, the Gahim, are despised by the ruling class, executed, sold as slaves, or bound as little better than servants. Kept confined to the royal castle for much of his life, Prince Symon has few friends, and, partly raised by a bound Gahim tutor, is worrying the more extremist factions of the ruling class with his egalitarian bent, something which the neighbouring kingdom of Inurot makes continuing efforts to correct with attempts to assassinate him and eradicate his family.

The world of Royal Deception displays strong world-building and a detailed social structure for the various shifter species, added to a colourful cultural background set across several kingdoms. In Prince Symon, Denae Christine has created a character well able to elicit sympathy in younger readers, chafing under the heavy hand of his over-protective parents and possessed of a strong belief in justice. The plot is equally divided between the development of Symon and the political intrigue driving the assassination plots and violence that threaten his life and his kingdom. Certainly a recommended read for all the fans of fantasy out there.

Searching for Sam, M G Atkinson

Searching for Sam, M G Atkinson

Searching for Sam

Finn is a chimera, a serial killer with a marked pattern: he kills paedophiles, pimps, and human traffickers. The kills span countries and continents, and they’re both recognisable and brutal. Interpol’s file on him is extensive, but quite apart from the fact the man is a ghost who rarely shows up on surveillance and never trips border controls, there’s a barely-voiced but very present reluctance to put him in jail. However, recently his system has changed, and he’s begun to leave clues – and Inspector Shelby of Interpol has to make some dubious choices if he wants to bring his man in.

Searching for Sam is one of those novels where the plot of the book hooked me and re-hooked me, and the editing yanked me out again just as often. The premise of a serial killer targeting the dregs of society, paired with the supernatural element to Finn’s story, made for an excellent read. The characters in general were well-fleshed out and very readable, from the diminutive Nova-bug to Finn himself, and avoided a number of the common stereotypes. Unfortunately, the technical side of the writing, from punctuation to homonyms to sections that would have benefited from judicious pruning to avoid pacing impacts, did not do justice to the author’s plotting and story-telling ability. If this book went through a thorough developmental and copy-edit, I can see it being a five-star read. As it is, I can’t in all honesty give it more than three.

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The Witch of Glenaster, Jonathan Mills

The Witch of Glenaster, Jonathan Mills

The Witch of Glenaster (The Glenaster Chronicles Book 1)

Esther Lanark was five when the first shadow of the Witch of Glenaster touched her remote village. By the time she reached her tenth year, rumours and ill fortune were flying on the wind, and stories of men with their eyes gouged out and the symbol of the Third Eye on their foreheads were becoming commonplace. Even when refugees began to pass through her village, Esther’s home remained untouched – until one night, disaster left Esther to find out exactly what she was willing to do for revenge.

The Witch of Glenaster is a young-adult fantasy with a refreshingly dark slant, and despite the inevitable help and protection rendered to the children by mysterious and competent strangers, the level of coincidence is kept to a plausible minimum. The world-building is detailed and solid, and author Jonathan Mills resists the urge to insert a magical last-minute save, which I deeply appreciated. I did find that after all the build-up, the finale fizzled out a little, but other than that, this is an eminently readable story. The characters have their own pasts, wants, and resentments, and the characterisation of Esther’s infant brother, largely non-vocal, demonstrates the author’s technical skill. While this may not be ideal bedtime reading, it’s certainly a worthwhile read for all ages of reader.

Ghostlight, Rabia Gale

Ghostlight, Rabia Gale

Ghostlight (The Reflected City Book 1)

Trey’s job is to keep Lumen safe from marauding spirits. After the Great Incursion, that job is something that cannot be taken lightly. So when he comes across the spirit of a young lady on his way home from a night out, his duty is apparently quite clear; send her on. Somehow, it doesn’t quite happen as he expects, and instead, Trey and Arabella find themselves in the position of having to work together to defend Lumen from a much greater threat – and form an unlikely alliance in so doing.

Ghostlight is the first in the Reflected City series, and as always when I open a Rabia Gale novel, I found myself hooked from the first page. Whether it’s steampunk sci-fi or gaslamp fantasy, the author’s story-telling ability is unquestionable. It’s also refreshing to read novels where the interaction between characters is based on personalities and common goals, rather than who’s going to fall into bed with whom. The world-building is excellent, evoking a solid sense of place and period without getting hung up on the details. Trey is a most original protagonist; he manages to embody the somewhat crotchety ‘get off my lawn’ personality in the person of the young and highly eligible Lord St. Ash, and the conflict between society’s expectations of him and his personal inclinations adds ongoing hilarity to the read. Overall, I highly recommend this book; I was laughing and reading out bits to my partner within minutes of opening it.

Caligation, Brhi Stokes

Caligation, Brhi Stokes

Caligation

Ripley Mason is a college drop-out, hitch-hiking his way to adventure on the roads of the US, when a car accident catapults him into an existence where nothing is quite as it should be. The city of Caligation, surrounded by impassable fog, is home to shape-shifters, vampires, and people able to manipulate elements – and there appears to be no highway back to normal. When Ripley gets desperate enough to take the only job on offer, with the local Mob, he doesn’t realise the level of trouble he’s about to embroil himself in.

Caligation is a gritty urban fantasy read, featuring a moderately clueless human dropped into a world where almost everyone can kill him and a fair number of them want to. With a strong focus on the main character, this book gives a close-up of the cycle of denial, despair, and acceptance in a city where nothing is quite as it seems. The furred, scaled, and feathered alter egos of the story stole the show, to my mind, especially Nyx the crow who alternately thinks she’s a cat or a badger and loves head-scratches. While I found that the story started slowly, it gathered depth and momentum as it headed into a thought-provoking ending. I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a read a little left of normal; it’s technically strong and the plot and characters will pull you in.