The Book of Abisan, C H Clepitt

The Book of Abisan, C H Clepitt

The Book of Abisan

The Book of Abisan is an adventurous urban fantasy, where a religious elite that persecutes magic users is extending its activities across alternate realities.

Yfrey is a magic user on the run, her home long since gone and her family and friends dead or imprisoned. Jacques works as an archivist in the UK, keeping people at a distance as much as she can. When a fluke of magic sends Yfrey stumbling into Jacques’s life, neither Jacques nor Yfrey thinks they stand a chance of surviving the pursuit on Yfrey’s trail, never mind fighting back—but the freedom of two worlds is hanging on their success.

The Book of Abisan creates a tantalising cast of relatable characters, with their own traumas and doubts, trying to pull off the impossible. On the one hand the story combines a journey to self-discovery for the protagonists, and on the other the storyline is balanced by violence and danger. As I’m not keen on the fluffy-fluffy approach in my reading, I appreciated author C. H. Clepitt’s ability to inject glimpses of gritty realism into the plot. The book makes good use of the alternate realities theme, building up the antagonists across realities in very different guises.

Shifting Identities, Cris and Clare Meyers

Shifting Identities, Cris and Clare Meyers

Shifting Identities (Criminal Elements Book 3)

Shifting Identities combines the excitement of an international vault heist with shape-shifting shenanigans. Carlos, reluctant apprentice criminal and shape-shifter, didn’t realise that the job description came with trips to Europe included when he joined up. However, between ancient European magical families, rival criminal groups, and deadly intrigue, he doesn’t have much time left over to admire the scenery. With Grace, the outfit’s con-woman, he has a key role to play in the group’s latest adventure, and a lot of very fast learning to do…

The latest instalment in Cris and Clare Meyers’ urban fantasy series, Shifting Identities, moves the focus onto Grace and Carlos. Featuring a high-speed tour of Western Europe and vault-breaking that includes deadly magical traps, this book is well-paced and filled with the series’ signature dialogue-centred adventure. I found that the underlying focus on Carlos’s growing into his place within the group allows for his ongoing education to inform the reader without straying into info-dump territory, and the glimpses into Renee’s much-hinted-at past were suitably intriguing. One of the strong aspects of this series is a solidly-developed magic system; a system that includes downsides, and isn’t the magical equivalent of duct tape for any situation. That, and a divergent cast of characters, makes this book, and the series, very enjoyable to read.

The Midsummer Wife, Jacqueline Church Simonds

The Midsummer Wife, Jacqueline Church Simonds

The Midsummer Wife (The Heirs to Camelot Book 1)

The Midsummer Wife is the modern outcome of Arthurian intrigue, a story of secretive organisations and hidden heritage culminating in Britain’s salvation. The aftermath of a nuclear terrorist attack on the heart of London has brought Britain to its knees, with the capital shattered and the countryside overrun with refugees.  Ava Cerdwen is the High Priestess of the Goddessian Church, and the woman tasked with bringing the heirs of Merlin and Arthur out of obscurity to heal their shattered country.

Author Jacqueline Church Simonds has pulled together a number of classic threads to weave her tale, with secretive cults of priestesses bringing forwards ancient knowledge to manipulate events, hidden heirs to power reluctantly acknowledging their heritage, and Druidic rites. Fans of Arthurian legend will find this a satisfying read, with a nod to all the right touchpoints, including a planned seduction that goes wildly astray. There are places where the reader relies on Ava’s mental commentary for a lot of the context, and couple of places where one of the protagonists happens to have just exactly the unlikely item required to save the day, but by and large the pacing and the storyline don’t require the help, and the whole forms a very pleasant read.

The Colonel and the Bee, Patrick Canning

The Colonel and the Bee, Patrick Canning

The Colonel and the Bee: A Globe-Trotting Adventure

The Colonel and the Bee is a sunny, swashbuckling adventure of giant hot-air balloons, treasure hunting, and international mystery. From the moment that Bee runs away from her old life as The Amazing Beatrix in a travelling circus and encounters the mysterious and infamous Colonel James Bacchus, she finds herself immersed in the new and the strange on every side, from investigating a bona fide murder in the Netherlands to crossing the Sahara in the Colonel’s amazing flying home.

It’s often easy, when using a very distinctive type of dialect or language, to either get carried away or to start falling out of character. Author Patrick Canning managed to maintain an endearingly old-world form of English without falling into either of these traps, and it made a great addition to the overall atmosphere of the story. While I had the impression that the storyline at times played fast and loose with distance and geography, the book is a highly enjoyable adventure, well-paced and filled with original characters. The Derringer Sisters, an international sisterhood of jilted ex-flames of the Colonel’s, were one of my favourite examples of the humour that makes appearances through the read. There’s enough suspense to keep a reader interested, which is quite a feat as the book is largely very light-hearted. I can’t over-recommend this for anyone looking for a fun adventure read.

The Gorgon Bride, Galen Surlak-Ramsey

The Gorgon Bride, Galen Surlak-Ramsey

The Gorgon Bride

The Gorgon Bride is the story of what would happen if the ancient Greek pantheon showed up on Earth and dropped an Orca on a concert pianist. This book showed strong elements of the traditional Greek legends’ style in the story, with the gods essentially larger-than-life humans pursuing eternal family feuds, but unfortunately my sense of humour is a vanishingly small target, and the comedic elements rather passed me by.

Alexander Weiss is selected by Athena apparently at random to act as her hero and find a suitable match for a gorgon, daughter of Phorcys, in order to appease Phorcys for having turned another of his daughters into a whale that got dropped on Alexander. Athena hopes to prove herself superior to Aphrodite in the process.

While the idea is certainly original, I found this story very hard to get into. The traditional Greek legend style of ‘oh, you got dismembered, old boy? Well, never mind, it’s a new day’ just never does it for me, and despite my best efforts, I kept skidding out of immersion in the storyline in a cloud of curses. This is undoubtedly a tribute to how well the author managed the style, but for me, much as I’d like to be able to, I can’t give a higher rating; I just didn’t enjoy the read.

Ink Bound, Holly Evans

Ink Bound, Holly Evans

Ink Bound (Ink Born Book 3)

Ink Bound follows Dacian, the ink magician, as he is dragged ever-deeper into the criminal magical underworld of Prague. Despite the insistence of several of his friends that Fein is more than a crime lord, Dacian has doubts about how involved he wants to be in Fein’s activities, and the choices he’s forced into to help shut down a ring of blood tattooists doesn’t do anything to lay those doubts to rest. When he ends up the bound owner of a wolf feral, Dacian gets a rude awakening to the status of ferals in the magical community, and begins to understand a little more of Fein’s position.

The Ink Born series is a wonderful showcase for author Holly Evans’s talent for utterly plausible world-building. With a fascinatingly original range of magical skills and manifestations, Ink Bound can in no way be categorised as just another urban fantasy adventure, but rather creates its own template. The development of the character of Dacian through this series is also a pleasure to follow. I did find that this book dragged the notion of other magical networks having their own equivalents to Dacian tantalisingly under the reader’s nose and then essentially deep-sixed it; a shame, as it opened up some interesting possibilities. However, aside from that minor frustration, this book is technically flawless and a highly enjoyable read.

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