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.

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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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.

Blood and Ink, Holly Evans

Blood and Ink, Holly Evans

Blood & Ink (Ink Born Book 2)

Dacian Corbeaux and his tattoo partner Keirn have fled to Prague, and are living embedded on the edge of the Magical Quarter, under the protection of a powerful wood elf named Fein. However, rumours of an ink magician in the city are spreading despite all the protection the elf can give, and Dacian’s relationship with the ink is still uncertain – too uncertain to allow him to interpret the message it’s trying to give him so urgently that he can hardly focus on the work he does to earn his protection. Between that and personal crises in his household, the situation in Prague is precarious.

Blood and Ink is a strong sequel to Stolen Ink, with a strong focus on Dacian and Keirn and a completely new setting. The book would stand alone, but reading the first one provides more context to the backstory, and the world-building is more than rich enough to merit reading both. The skilled pacing and story-telling that shone in the first book are still present in the second, although I did feel that the characters’ personal lives detracted some of the focus from the main plot. It’s hard to get too worried about this, however, as the characters are one of the key strengths of the series – cynical, well-developed, and part of a truly unique magic system. I would recommend this book – and the series – to any readers of urban fantasy looking for something new.

Only Human, Leigh Holland

Only Human, Leigh Holland

Only Human (Act One): The Pooka’s Tales: Speak of the Devil

Cobbles are hard. They’re hard regardless of whether you’re human, or a semi-mythical being out of Celtic folklore currently disguised as a harmless pigeon. While reflecting on this unfortunate fact, our hero is picked up by the parish priest. However, with healing comes shape-changing, and with shape-changing come unwelcome questions, like ‘What are you?’ and ‘What’s your story?’

Only Human Act I: The Pooka’s Tales: Speak of The Devil is an interesting take on Christian mythology as interpreted by a Twyleth Teg, a figure out of Celtic fairy tales. The protagonist’s turn of phrase is entertainingly narcissistic, although unfortunately he’s the unseen narrator through most of the book. I say ‘unfortunately’, because the interplay between the self-absorbed, joke-cracking ‘Rory’ and the sober parish father was one of the strongest aspects of the read for me.

To anyone familiar with the TV show ‘Lucifer’, some of the set-up of the main tale will be familiar, along with the portrayal of the Devil as a misunderstood anti-hero. The writing makes light going of subject matter that has bogged down many a story, and the pacing is excellent. I, personally, have issues with stories that go through multiple layers of reality, so I found that aspect of the book off-putting, but I have to give the overall idea points for original characters.

Lightning Struck, Miranda Hardy

Lightning Struck, Miranda Hardy

Lightning Struck (The Roaming Curse Book 1)

Elysia is running again, fleeing from the fall-out of her uncontrollable ability to affect the weather—and the people who want to capture her, along with any members of her family they can lay hands on. When a mysterious package shows up in her anonymous hotel room, it leads her back to Florida, where she finds out that not only is she not alone, but her world is even stranger than she imagined.

Lightening Struck is a pleasant read, not delving too deeply into its characters or topics; a young-adult novel, where our teenaged heroine finds herself not only transplanted to a small Florida town, but also rapidly becomes the bone of contention between two of the outstandingly handsome and magnetic young men living there—as if the risk of causing hurricanes weren’t enough for any teenager. I enjoyed the treatment of Elysia’s ability/curse, and how her moods interacted with the weather, and several of the characters were entertaining to read. One thing I struggled with a little was that the book is written first person/present tense, which makes my brain itch, and I did find that the plausibility suffered in a few places, such as the romance angles. However, the finale was believable, if a trifle on the miraculous-happy end of the scale.