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.

Prophecy, Petra Landon

Prophecy, Petra Landon

The Prophecy (Saga of the Chosen Book 1)

Tasia has just, finally, made a place for herself, off everyone’s radar in San Francisco. She’s got two low-level jobs and an apartment in a crappy part of town. She’s registered as about the lowest level of magic user that can still work, and so far, no one’s asking inconvenient questions – up until a side-gig cleaning magical residue leads her to do the powerful Shifter clans a favour. That leads Tasia into a series of events that bring her into more and more danger of blowing her cover – and an increasingly tangled relationship with the enigmatic Alpha Protector.

The Prophecy is an entertaining blend of urban fantasy and paranormal romance, set in a San Francisco where the magical community lives side by side with normal humans, keeping their differences hidden by whatever means necessary. I felt that more clarity around exactly why Tasia was attempting to hide, and from whom, would have strengthened the story; in hiding because bad things was really the plot summary I walked away with on that score. Some of the character reactions also came across as inconsistent, which is a shame as the story is complex and well-paced, and offers a number of points of interest to the reader. I really feel with a little more polishing and character development this could easily make a five-star review. Fans of urban fantasy, and especially those who enjoy a spunky but submissive protagonist, will definitely find this an enjoyable read.

Who By Water, Victoria Raschke

Who By Water, Victoria Raschke

Who By Water (Voices of the Dead Book 1)

Jo Wiley is one of those anomalies: an American living in Slovenia. With a group of friends, she manages a tea house in Ljubljana and keeps the various aspects of her social life strictly separate. When Jo accompanies a friend to the opening of a new archaeological exhibit in town, the worst she’s expecting to have to deal with is being polite to a slimy bar owner who fancies himself irresistible to women. She’s not expecting to see one of her lovers murdered, or to suddenly receive a warning from her dead father…

Who by Water layers realistic fantasy and fantastic reality over the ancient setting of Slovenia’s capital, weaving in allusions to the Catholic Inquisition, witch hunters, and older than both, the Roman settlement of Iulia Aemona that preceded the city. Victoria Raschke’s writing provides an eminently plausible scenario of ancient artifacts and psychic abilities drawn to Ljubljana’s historic nexus, with Jo Wiley, our pragmatic protagonist, front and centre with a talent for speaking to the dead that she wasn’t aware she possessed. I found the pacing of the novel was excellent, and while some of the characters hinted at far more backstory than was actually explored in the book, the story was well-written and a highly enjoyable start to the series.

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.