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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.

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.