Stolen Ink, Holly Evans

Stolen Ink, Holly Evans

Stolen Ink (Ink Born Book 1)

Dacian’s a tattoo magician. He’s got a business that pays well enough to let him put his feet up and keep the door closed every so often if he wants to, and a good business partner. Going unnoticed is exactly what he likes best. Unfortunately, it looks as if the gods aren’t content any more with merely raining on him; his tattoos are collecting strays, and someone else is apparently collecting other peoples’ tattoos. The words ‘ink magician’ are flying around a lot more than Dacian’s happy with, but when the tattoo thief strikes close to home, any choice Dacian can live with is going to get him noticed…

The first thing you’re going to notice about Stolen Ink is its strong, unique, cynical voice, and that it’s laugh-out-loud funny in places. The second thing, probably, will be that it’s a couple of hours later than you expected. Author Holly Evans has created a deeply-detailed fantasy world with a rich variety of species and magic types loose in it, and all the conflict points you could want to spark a story. The characters are memorably individual, and, impressively, the author manages to include companion animal spirits without in any way coming off as a Philip Pullman impression. This book truly puts the ‘fantasy’ in urban fantasy – highly enjoyable.

The Atlas Defect, A J Scudiere

The Atlas Defect, A J Scudiere

The Atlas Defect (The NightShade Forensic Files, Book 3)

Eleri Eames was born with a silver spoon in her mouth and a mystic for a grandmother. Her uncanny string of successful profiles for the FBI left her facing an inquiry into whether she’d been involved…until NightShade scooped her and her instincts up and put her to work. With her partner, Donovan Heath, Eleri is following up on a report of ‘weird’ bones in a national forest – in a snowstorm. Happily, the snow isn’t a problem for Donovan’s nose – the fact that ‘weird’ might be an understatement, on the other hand, is liable to crack open something that no one wants to see the light of day.

The Atlas Defect was a highly enjoyable read, offering plausibly imperfect characters and an original slant on shape-shifters. Despite being the third in the NightShade Forensic Files series, I had no trouble reading it as a standalone; there was enough back-story evoked as the adventure progressed to flesh out the characters, without leaving the pacing bogged down in an info-dump. ‘GJ’ Janson was the only real weak point in the story for me; she went to far too much trouble to insert herself into the investigation to roll over that easily when push came to shove (trying not to drop too many spoilers here). Other than that, the plot contains a nice mix of macabre and mystery, the pacing is good, and the twists were nicely handled. Certainly one to add to your to-read list.

Runaway Deception, Denae Christine

Runaway Deception, Denae Christine

Runaway Deception (Royal Deception Book 2)

Symon abandoned the throne of Arton after the death of his father, leaving his treacherous uncle in functional charge of the country and his mother and a twelve-year-old soon-to-be-royal, Lana, as the only bulwark against the coup. Fleeing through the countryside, Symon accidentally falls in with the rumoured band of renegade animal shifters known as the Hoard, and decides to remain with them, hiding who and what he actually is, as his uncle’s Inurite army imprison and kill animal shifters across Arton.

Author Denae Christine has created an interesting and satisfyingly complex society of shape shifters in this series, their roles and discord lending insight into the intricate world building behind the books. While the author’s technical skill is clear, and the social structure as intriguing as the biology, I didn’t find that Runaway Deception really went anywhere. It’s difficult to explain without horrific spoilers of this book or the first in the series, but the status quo at the end of book one, essentially, is the status quo at the end of book two; Symon missing, Lana in trouble, treacherous uncle in charge of Arton and doing unspeakable things.

I also must confess that I found Symon hard to relate to as a protagonist; in some core aspects, he appears to be as self-centred as a gyroscope, and while this story is a YA, and Symon is a teenager, it was hard for me to find much sympathy with him. It made reading a book almost entirely about his adventures while running away from his throne a little tougher a proposition than it might otherwise have been.

The quality of the story-telling, however, earnt this book a solid three stars despite my not-infrequent desire to see Symon turned over someone’s knee and spanked – it’s well-paced, well-thought out, and an enjoyable read.

The Seven Stars, Joshua Hampton

The Seven Stars, Joshua Hampton

The Seven Stars (Crowns of Silver and Ash Book 1)

Written in the style of an epic fantasy, The Seven Stars introduces us to a tale of war and adventure peopled with an intriguing mix of races. There are the mysterious Sons, with their warlike abilities; humans; the dhoglers; and the Eirkfolk, mute without their musical instruments. The development of these races was honestly probably the part of the story that came across as the strongest for me.

However, I found other aspects less well-developed. The centre of the story is the Sons’ attack on the Silver City, and their crusade to destroy all Seven Cities; aside from a general understanding that the Seven Cities had done something unmentionable to the Sons’ ancestors, I found myself at the end of this first book still somewhat unclear on the cause of the conflict, the exact properties of the various relics guarded by the cities, and, to be honest, even on how long ago said atrocity took place. The Seven Cities were apparently at peace plenty long enough to let their guard down, but the Sons were clearly polishing some serious revenge meanwhile.

There is also a mystery around the topic of music; the Sons despise and avoid it, except when they themselves sing; the Eirkfolk require music to speak, and there’s a strong implication that music carries some power in the world of Crowns of Silver and Ash that doesn’t come completely clear. While this book is the first in a series and ends abruptly enough to qualify as a cliff-hanger, I would have appreciated a few more hints on this to hook me into a second book.

Overall, there were most certainly strong points in this book, and the author clearly put a great deal of thought into his creation, but I didn’t find that the story really drew me in. Some of that is because of the vagueness I mentioned above, and partly because the pacing in some areas had me resisting the urge to page-flip; there was no one thread or character that really pulled me into the story and held me there.

High Iron, Tim Craire

High Iron, Tim Craire

High Iron

Aiman Shearer was very young when he was first singled out by the wizards of Varenland, and although he chose not to pursue magic and learning, it remained a part of him; a daydream to bring out and polish bright. Much later, when his peaceful existence raising his family’s sheep is threatened by invasion, Aiman finds himself caught up in a central role in the conflict, dealing with dwarves, elves, and renegade kobolds to end the unrest threatening Emmervale, and, possibly, avert a war.

High Iron is a well-written story, very suitable for younger readers. I say this partly because of the protagonist: Aiman is the son of a well-placed family in idyllic Emmervale, and is a simply-sketched character with no real vices, someone who is ready to forego glory to mind his family’s sheep and overlook past wrongs to save his town. The story itself is also written in the style of the fantasy quest, well done but with no real doubt about the eventual outcome of the hero’s endeavours. Despite or because of this, the book was still a highly enjoyable read, and as I’m generally all about the complex, dark, and twisted, I say this as a real compliment. I’d recommend it without hesitation to fantasy readers of all ages.

Meet the author:

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Fly by Night, Cris and Clare Meyers

Fly by Night, Cris and Clare Meyers

Fly by Night (Criminal Elements #2)

Rook is screwed. His ex-boss burned him so thoroughly that most of his contacts won’t even give him the time of day, the team said ex-boss hoped to kill with him hold him responsible for the mess, and he’s methodically experimenting to see if life looks any better through the bottom of a bottle. That’s before the voices in his head decide to bitch-slap him from halfway across town and someone tries to blow up the one person still willing to speak to him…

Fly by Night is an excellent sequel to Playing with Fire, with the main focus passing to the maverick hacker and shape-shifter, Rook. While Rook manages to rub everyone the wrong way in the first novel, authors Cris and Clare Meyers have done a lot to make the character more easy to get along with in the first person view of him, and his malfunctioning magical gifts make an entertaining side-show to the main action.

A second book in a series isn’t always the easiest thing to pull off. However, this sequel manages to avoid inconsistencies in plot and characterisation, and pulls together an entertaining and action-filled story that gives tantalising glimpses of the likely series story arc moving forward. These books are also by and large well-edited, which I always deeply appreciate, and the magic system has some convincing and occasionally hilarious downsides. Definitely something worth picking up for anyone’s urban fantasy collection.