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 Tremblers, Raquel Byrnes

The Tremblers, Raquel Byrnes

The Tremblers (Blackburn Chronicles)

The Tremblers was a fast-paced thrill-ride set in a plausible, well thought-out steampunk world. Charlotte Blackburn is one of the elite, a Society debutante whose greatest concern is supposed to be the trim on her chainmail bodice. However, the night that she first encounters one of the tremblers, infected with a plague of unknown origin, her life changes forever. Charlotte finds herself caught up in events that will shape the future of her world, on the run from the law with a man she barely knows, and she’s somehow supposed to keep up still swathed in a ball gown.

Author Raquel Byrnes has created a very intriguing world, a steampunk version of the States where the major cities are confined and protected by Tesla domes against the man-made disaster outside. The thought that clearly went into the little details of the setting shines through without overwhelming the plot. While (I admit it) Charlotte’s tendency to end up in tears got to me periodically, overall the character had a lot of depth and her own unique perspective on the situations she found herself in. Despite the breakdowns, she kept going, and as the situation got more dire, she developed a streak of self-reliance and got the job done. The pacing is excellent, and the adventures largely plausible in context; definitely enough to keep the reader turning pages. I’d highly recommend this read to readers of adventure of all kinds; steampunk with some truly unique twists.

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.

Rituals of the Dead, Jennifer S. Alderson

Rituals of the Dead, Jennifer S. Alderson

Rituals of the Dead: An Artifact Mystery (Adventures of Zelda Richardson Book 3)

Rituals of the Dead is a tense mystery thriller that combines the sedate world of Dutch museums with a decades-old murder on the far side of the world. Zelda Richardson is an American expatriate, working as an intern to support her Master’s thesis in Amsterdam, when her research starts dragging up details that don’t quite mesh with the official version of events. Her off-books work almost costs her her internship, and that’s only the beginning of the trouble. Can Zelda figure out how the facts tie together before the consequences catch up with her?

Author Jennifer S. Alderson has a unique gift for taking a setting that should be incredibly tranquil, and smoothly weaving in the oddities that make her case until the calm of the academic atmosphere is well and truly overturned. Zelda isn’t a hardboiled and capable detective; in fact, she’s the opposite; timid and willing to allow people to treat her badly in case standing up for herself causes her to lose her position, but driven by curiosity to investigate the threads that don’t quite tie in. The world-building in this series is also outstanding, built on detail but without beating the reader over the head with a litany of research. Fans of mystery and crime will definitely enjoy this book.

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