Ghostlight, Rabia Gale

Ghostlight, Rabia Gale

Ghostlight (The Reflected City Book 1)

Trey’s job is to keep Lumen safe from marauding spirits. After the Great Incursion, that job is something that cannot be taken lightly. So when he comes across the spirit of a young lady on his way home from a night out, his duty is apparently quite clear; send her on. Somehow, it doesn’t quite happen as he expects, and instead, Trey and Arabella find themselves in the position of having to work together to defend Lumen from a much greater threat – and form an unlikely alliance in so doing.

Ghostlight is the first in the Reflected City series, and as always when I open a Rabia Gale novel, I found myself hooked from the first page. Whether it’s steampunk sci-fi or gaslamp fantasy, the author’s story-telling ability is unquestionable. It’s also refreshing to read novels where the interaction between characters is based on personalities and common goals, rather than who’s going to fall into bed with whom. The world-building is excellent, evoking a solid sense of place and period without getting hung up on the details. Trey is a most original protagonist; he manages to embody the somewhat crotchety ‘get off my lawn’ personality in the person of the young and highly eligible Lord St. Ash, and the conflict between society’s expectations of him and his personal inclinations adds ongoing hilarity to the read. Overall, I highly recommend this book; I was laughing and reading out bits to my partner within minutes of opening it.

The Hills of Mare Imbrium, Carleton Chinner

The Hills of Mare Imbrium, Carleton Chinner

The Hills of Mare Imbrium (Cities of the Moon Book 1)

Jonah Barnes is a rich-kid junkie, sent to the Lunar Peoples Republic of Jiangnan to get him out of his family’s hair – and to scatter his brother’s ashes. With no plans for his future, he falls in with the first friendly face he finds, Lucien Jones, one of the Moon Folk. With the current Lunar administrator close to retirement, the pressure on resource production and bias against the Moon Folk has reached new heights, and when violence nearly kills both Jonah and Lucien, Jonah discovers that Lucien is more than he seems.

The Hills of Mare Imbrium is a strong debut sci-fi thriller with some clear homages to the Heinlein classic, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Author Carleton Chinner has set the story in a Lunar future where China has taken charge of the Moon, and those who have adapted to Lunar conditions, the Moon Folk, are a discriminated-against sub-population. I found the story concept and some of the settings were a very strong point in this book; the characters would have drawn me in more with a little more development, and the Moon Folk dialect tended to waver between scenes, but the backdrops to the adventures were richly-imagined and well-written. I would recommend this book to sci-fi fans and especially to those folk who enjoy both sci-fi and RPG gaming.

Blood and Ink, Holly Evans

Blood and Ink, Holly Evans

Blood & Ink (Ink Born Book 2)

Dacian Corbeaux and his tattoo partner Keirn have fled to Prague, and are living embedded on the edge of the Magical Quarter, under the protection of a powerful wood elf named Fein. However, rumours of an ink magician in the city are spreading despite all the protection the elf can give, and Dacian’s relationship with the ink is still uncertain – too uncertain to allow him to interpret the message it’s trying to give him so urgently that he can hardly focus on the work he does to earn his protection. Between that and personal crises in his household, the situation in Prague is precarious.

Blood and Ink is a strong sequel to Stolen Ink, with a strong focus on Dacian and Keirn and a completely new setting. The book would stand alone, but reading the first one provides more context to the backstory, and the world-building is more than rich enough to merit reading both. The skilled pacing and story-telling that shone in the first book are still present in the second, although I did feel that the characters’ personal lives detracted some of the focus from the main plot. It’s hard to get too worried about this, however, as the characters are one of the key strengths of the series – cynical, well-developed, and part of a truly unique magic system. I would recommend this book – and the series – to any readers of urban fantasy looking for something new.

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.

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.

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