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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.

The Watchers boxed set, Ellison Blackburn

The Watchers boxed set, Ellison Blackburn

The Watchers boxed set: If There Be Giants and Second Son

If you enjoyed Indiana Jones, and the interweaving of fact and myth, past and present, this series is for you. Author Ellison Blackburn takes a solid grounding of English weather and archaeology, and adds a breath of mythology and mystery that raises the plot from merely interesting to a delightful exercise in what-if.

If There be Giants

Mallory Jacks and her best friend, Paisley Bourne, shared a passion for archaeology as children. Years later, Drs. Jacks and Bourne, once again working together, are summoned to a farm where the farmer has uncovered a possible henge site. As they begin to unearth the stones, they make a discovery that has the potential to overturn both the scientific and the religious communities.

If There Be Giants is a story of archaeology and myths, giants and visions, set in Cornwall, the seat of all British legend. Ellison Blackburn has created a story richly woven with archaeological detail and Christian mythology, and peopled it with her strongly-characterised protagonists. This is one of the author’s strongest books to date, a fascinating debut to the new Watchers series.

Second Son

Second Son is the second in the Watchers series, following  Grey’s point of view more closely as he learns the truth of his infamous heritage – and how to reconcile his existence and that of his family with their beliefs.

Author Ellison Blackburn’s trademark ability to weave thought-provoking concepts into stories that are gripping, well-developed reads is back on display in this series, as she explores love, fidelity, and faith through the lens of Grey and Mallory’s lives. The handling of the Christian mythology displays the depth of research that went into the story and provides a strong framework that underlies the choices the protagonists must make in this book.

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.