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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.

Lose A Princess, Lose Your Head, Alex Avrio

Lose A Princess, Lose Your Head, Alex Avrio

Lose A Princess, Lose Your Head (Merchant Blades Book 2)

Merchant Blade Regina Fitzwaters, previously a Captain in the Merrovigia armed forces, has a hangover. To add insult to injury, she didn’t even earn it—her partner and fellow Merchant Blade, Kapitan Maximilian Jaeger, did. On top of that, given a partnership they’re magically cursed to maintain, it looks very much as if she’s going to wind up working for the Eressians, the previously opposing side in a very recently-won war. If that weren’t enough, Jaeger, Eressian himself, is going to have to take the command on an escort mission that looks as if the Merchant Blades are going to end as scapegoats or worse…

Lose A Princess, Lose Your Head is a great sequel to The Alchemist’s Box, following Jaeger and Fitzwaters as they try to come to terms with their curse, their obligatory business partnership, and Eressian politics. The story-telling in this series is enthralling; well-paced and filled with characters well-developed enough to pull the reader forcibly into their stories. I felt there were a few areas where the technical side of the writing in this book could have been tightened up, primarily in clarity and consistency, but overall this read kept me just as entertained as the first book in the series. Jaeger retains his status as a convincing anti-hero; conflicted, competent, close-mouthed about his past, and practical well past the point of ruthlessness, and the world-building is very solid and plausible. A must-read for fans of fantasy adventure.

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 Alchemist’s Box, Alex Avrio

The Alchemist’s Box, Alex Avrio

The Alchemist’s Box (The Merchant Blades Book 1)

Regina Fitzwaters is a mercenary, one of the many soldiers who enlisted in an army that, with the advent of peace, no longer needs them. After losing her savings in a high-stakes card game, she finds herself entrapped into a mission across the treacherous Ugarri Pass at the onset of winter. Employed by a pair of criminals with no scruples and forced to take as her co-commander a mercenary previously from the opposing army, Fitzwaters is so far outside her comfort zone that she couldn’t even find it on a map, and that’s only the start of her troubles…

The Alchemist’s Box is a well-written fantasy adventure, spiced with magic that hardly anyone believes in, true prophecy that no one wants to believe in, and full of unlikely alliances. I read this book in two sittings, and on top of an excellently paced and planned plot, I found that the characters really shone. I’m a shameless sucker for intelligent anti-heroes, and Kapitan Maximillian Jaeger deserves, at the least, an honourable mention in that category. Competent, conflicted, and dark to the core, I found that he stole centre stage as far as characterisation went. The protagonist, Regina Fitzwaters, expressed very accurately the vivid exasperation of a competent, intelligent woman consistently underestimated and insulted on account of her gender, but that was the main impression left by the character. The twist at the end of the book in the very conflicted relationship between Fitzwaters and Jaeger was also a nice change from the traditional cliché. Overall, I would highly recommend this book – a most engaging read.

Sweet-pea’s Thief, J Cassidy

Sweet-pea’s Thief, J Cassidy

Sweet-pea’s Thief, J Cassidy

Sweet-pea has had her body stolen and been, for all intents and purposes, transported into a mirror universe version of her old hometown. Adopted by a pair of men who collect Old time, Sweet-pea seems to be a catalyst for disruption in the small community; beyond that, the roving dangers known as the Tin Men seem to be drawn to her. Sweet-pea wants nothing more than to find a way to get her own body back, but even that goal may have to be put on hold…

Sweet-pea’s Thief is a light, pleasant read, with good-hearted principal characters and villains who fall somewhere along the chaotic neutral scale. Sweet-pea’s many predicaments are eased by a series of loyal companions who support and educate her in how to survive her new circumstances each time, while the book’s settings are leavened by magic, time travel, and a touch of true love. Much as I enjoyed this book, I would have personally found it more compelling if the consequences hadn’t been so reliably softened by the lucky discovery of a faithful and useful companion at each turn in the story. However, I would recommend the read, especially for younger readers. It’s a solid fantasy adventure with a strain of Peter Pan to it that will appeal to a wide audience.