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.

Playing With Fire, Cris and Clare Meyers

Playing With Fire, Cris and Clare Meyers

Playing with Fire: Criminal Elements #1

Playing With Fire is an urban fantasy set in the underground world of international crime, where the top operators use magic to augment their more mundane skills. Renée Devereaux is a professional thief, flying about as far under the radar as she can. Sam ‘Stone’ Anders is a hitman for hire. When they meet on a job in Russia, the fact that the job requires both of their diverse skill sets turns out to not even be the strangest thing about it, and it takes all Renee’s magic with stealth and Stone’s destructive Talent with fire for them both to escape with their hides intact. Nearly fifteen years later, when a chance to take out the man who set them up in Russia comes their way, they’re both more than ready to accept the challenge…

Renée and Stone make for interesting protagonists; they initially come across as the French chick and the all-American hero, but they develop into much stronger, more original presences in the story, adding their own unique quirks. While all the characters are written very much in the present, the interactions are really one of the high points in the book, especially once the secondary characters are introduced. There are plenty of hints of more back story to be uncovered, and as this is the first in a series, it’s not much of a stretch to assume that details will be forthcoming as the series unfolds. Rook, Grace, and Medium make a quality supporting cast.

I felt that there were areas where the tension could potentially have been made a little more of; Renée and Stone are written as highly competent, and in places, it made it hard to worry too much about their long-term well-being. The magic structure has some particularly nice touches, realistically written and with enough downsides to make it plausible, and it added an excellent thread of ‘power corrupts’ to the overall plot. The book was also editorially solid, which I always appreciate. Taken all in all, this is a very enjoyable story, a strong series-starter – I look forwards to seeing what authors Cris and Clare Meyers do with the next couple of books.

Oubliette, Vanta M Black

Oubliette, Vanta M Black

Oubliette: A Forgotten Little Place

Veronica’s interior design business is failing when she gets a call from France early one morning. The call is the opportunity of a lifetime – an offer to renovate an ancient chateau in the Loire Valley, the traditional holiday destination of French royalty, all expenses paid. Veronica and her sister, Nikki, both agree that a few months working on a French chateau sounds like just what a couple of poor American girls need. What neither of them realises is that the Chateau du Feu Ardent isn’t just a medieval French castle, but more a thin veneer over a yawning pit of history.

Oubliette: A Forgotten Little Place is a nicely-paced urban fantasy spiced with just enough horror to keep a reader’s attention. The characters are a particularly strong point of this book: Nikki, especially, shines as a trashy, selfish type, guaranteed to get a reader response. The utter normality of the characters, and their typically American complacency, is a particularly nice offset to the horror aspects of the plot. It’s a classic plot construct because it works, and this story is no exception. Vanta M. Black has done an excellent job of weaving in the cameo stories of the castle’s past inhabitants and keeping all the various storylines in sync for the final twist. I can recommend this book to anyone who likes their legends with a little darkness.

Devils of Black and Gold, F.A.R.

Devils of Black and Gold, F.A.R.

Devils of Black and Gold

A tale of devils and monsters and high-school heroes, F.A.R.’s Devils of Black and Gold introduces us to Lucas, the class loner, and Brian, his best friend, as Lucas struggles for control in the face of the impossible: he believes he’s become a werewolf. Dealing with shape-shifts he can’t always control, and increasingly wild mood-swings, Lucas is afraid that he’s a danger to all that he holds dear, including his best friend. Brian’s complete faith in his friend becomes Lucas’s only point of reference for faith in himself, and that’s before they find out about the string of gruesome murders that the police are calling the Beast Attacks – brutally mangled corpses that have no apparent connection.

Devils of Black and Gold is a fast-paced urban fantasy novella offering an eclectic mix of shape-shifters, possession, and a crime thriller that doesn’t let up on the tension. F.A.R. writes convincingly from the teenage viewpoint of the characters, contrasting them with a surprisingly intuitive and flexible authority figure in the form of Eliot Guthrie, a homicide detective on the local police force. The action is set against an economically evoked background of school, parents, and high-school tensions, carefully hidden from the attention of parents and teachers. A worth-while read for fans of urban fantasy and YA.

Between Two Worlds, Christy Santo

Between Two Worlds, Christy Santo

Between Two Worlds

Between Two Worlds is a fantasy story, following the experiences of a woman whose concussion turns into a coma of several months’ duration. It offers an interesting perspective of a combination of the protagonist’s real life experiences of her coma and the events around her, observed as through from an out of body perspective, interspersed with the experiences of another older woman from her hometown.

While the idea was interesting, I experienced some challenges with the read. The book is written in a first person, present tense style that, as a reader, always makes me wince. Some of that is the jerkiness that it gives a book; I find it impacts the smoothness of the writing and keeps pulling my attention back to the writing rather than allowing it remain on the story. That’s a personal perspective.

From a more technical side, the level of description of trivia in the story often overwhelmed the events, and dulled the emotional impact that the scenes may have been intended to convey. There were also a number of punctuation issues that periodically forced me to stop and re-read to ensure I had the passage correctly, and combined with the rest, meant that the story didn’t really draw me in and hold my interest as I read.

Overall, I think that the basic idea was strong, but the book itself would benefit enormously from a strong developmental edit or critique.

Equilibrium, Darcy Lennox

Equilibrium, Darcy Lennox

Equilibrium: the First Signal

The general concept for Equilibrium: The First Signal is a promising take on the urban fantasy classic of a magical society living hidden beside, or in this case, above, London; think Harry Potter meets the Marvel comics.

Unfortunately, the book itself failed to live up to the premise. The start of the book jumps around to introduce all the major players, giving it a rather choppy start. In addition, the technical aspect of the writing makes this a difficult read to remain absorbed in. From multiple grammar and spelling errors on literally every page to similes scattered through the story that are frankly unfortunate, the writing got in the way of the story in almost every way possible.

The characters were slightly stronger than the general writing, with possibly the most convincing aspect of the book lying in the back story, but the interactions between characters were lacking that crucial draw for me. It felt as if they would frankly all have benefited from some more work and a lot more depth. Add to that the unfortunate simile syndrome undermining the exchanges and I found that they failed to achieve the effect that was probably originally intended.

Overall, this was the second book all year I thought seriously about not finishing. I try really, really hard not to DNF books, but this one skirted very close. When something makes me wince on every page I turn, admitted editorial nut that I am, it makes it impossible for me to enjoy a read.

Reviewed for Knockin’ Books