Category: Urban Fantasy

Silence Fallen (Mercedes Thompson #10)

Cover image for Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs by Patricia Briggs

ISBN 9780425281277

“I’m a mechanic; I fix things that are broken. I turn into a thirty-five pound coyote. I have powerful friends. But when it comes right down to it, my real superpower is chaos.”

In Night Broken, Adam and Mercy declared the Tri-Cities pack territory, and a neutral zone under their protection. Since then, they have successfully defended that claim against the Fae in Fire Touched, proving that they can keep their word. But it seems the challenges are not over, because Mercy is kidnapped not far from home, and the purpose of taking her seems to be to prove the weakness of the Tri-Cities alliance. In coyote form, Mercy manages to escape her attackers, ending up alone and on the run in Europe. With their mating bond silenced by the great distance between them, Adam gathers a group of their allies, and heads to Europe in pursuit of Mercy.

For the first time, Patricia Briggs takes her characters far afield from their Tri-Cities home, with Mercy eventually finding herself in Prague, the territory of an old wolf who has a long-standing feud with the Marrok. Mercy also discovers that the Old Country is rife with ghosts, clamouring for the attention of a walker.  Briggs employs dual timelines, switching perspectives between Mercy and Adam. Briggs also used this device briefly in Frost Burned, the seventh book in the series, in which Adam and the pack disappeared, and Mercy was hunting for them. Here, however, the technique is used throughout the book, and the two timelines are not synchronized. As a result, Briggs introduces each chapter with a blurb in Mercy’s voice that clarifies when events are taking place, and how they relate to the other chapters. It is somewhat awkward, but serves well enough to keep the reader oriented, especially as Adam and Mercy converge later in the book.

Ten books into her series, Briggs has built up a large cast of secondary characters, to the point where many favourites might only be mentioned in passing in any particular volume. In this case, most of the pack and Mercy’s other friends are left behind in Washington. While Mercy is on her own in Prague meeting even more new characters, Adam must choose who to take with him to Milan to confront Mercy’s kidnapper. With the Tri-Cities now declared to be the independent territory of the Columbia Basin Pack, Adam must make his selections carefully in order to represent the new supernatural alliance to the European powers that have decided to challenge the declaration.

One of Adam’s companions for the trip is Honey, a werewolf who has been rising through the ranks since the death of her mate, and since Mercy’s arrival shook up the pack’s traditional gender dynamics, which placed female wolves at the bottom of the ladder. Marsilia, mistress of the vampire seethe, and Elizaveta, the pack’s witch on retainer, also join the delegation. Marsilia is a surprisingly gentle presence this time around, though the book deals heavily with her backstory. However, Briggs seems to be hinting at interesting developments in store for Elizaveta. Stefan, who has been largely absent for quite some time, also joins the group, which is rounded out by a goblin representative for the Fae. The private plane they charter is piloted by another goblin, with a submissive werewolf called Matt Smith as co-pilot. Briggs fits in a running joke about Smith’s name, which he shares with the actor who played the eleventh doctor on Doctor Who. This seems to be a sly nod to the title of the book, since “Silence Will Fall” was the prophecy that anchored much of Smith’s run on the show.

Silence Fallen does not move the overarching story forward so much as it explores reinforces the changes that have taken place in the last couple volumes. Sometimes the next step in a series is fairly obvious, but in this case the way forward is not clear. However, Briggs has promised both the next Alpha and Omega book—Burn Bright, 2018—and the long-awaited Moira and Tom novel before the next installment of Mercy’s saga is due out.

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You might also like Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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Certain Dark Things

Cover image for Certain Dark Things by Silvia Morena-Garcia by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

ISBN 978-1-250-09908-2

“She seems to enjoy your company, she may even like you, and yet. Don’t deceive yourself, my boy, this is not a love story.”

Domingo is a street kid who scrapes by as a junk collector on the streets of Mexico City, one of the few vampire-free zones in a world that learned in 1967 that vampires are all too real. Domingo is fascinated by the pop-culture lore of these creatures, but he has never seen one until Atl drops into his life. The scion of a powerful northern narco-clan, Atl is on the run after a disastrous clash with a rival clan. Sneaking into Mexico City is risky, but she needs to buy the papers that will allow her to escape to South America. Atl wants to get in and get out quickly and quietly, but she needs a source of blood that will not draw suspicion or attention. Unfortunately, her rivals are much less discreet, and soon the human gangs and cops of Mexico City become aware that vampires have invaded their territory.

Atl picks up Domingo on Mexico City’s subway, figuring that she can discreetly pay him to be her source of blood for the duration of her stay. This is not quite the arrangement Domingo expected when Atl solicited him, but he is fascinated by vampire stories, and willing to go along with what she wants. Soon, however, the two are bonded together by their adventures and Atl starts considering something more. Technically speaking, she is too young to be allowed to have a Tlapalehuiani, or a Renfield, but the unusual circumstances cause her to consider violating custom and binding Domingo even more closely. Yet it is also clear that Domingo is in danger of falling in love with her.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia pulls together a diverse variety of vampire lore, and is able to incorporate many different traditions by dividing her vampires into ten different sub-species. The protagonist, Atl, is descended from vampires that are native to Mexico with their roots in Aztec lore, but her family has been decimated by the Necros, a hardy and brutal European sub-species. A lot of information is built into the text, but for those who can’t get enough, there is also a glossary at the back for some extra details. Three sub-species of vampire feature in Certain Dark Things, but Moreno-Garcia clearly has a strong idea of the rest of her world as well.

Atl and Domingo are both vivid protagonists, but the secondary characters are no less interesting. Ana is a cop who used to work in vampire territory in Zacatecas, but moved to Mexico City for the promise of a better career, and a better life for her teenage daughter, Marisol. She has toed the line for so long, and tried to be honest, but the promise of Mexico City has proved hollow. The police force is still corrupt, and there are few opportunities for women. When a human gang offers a significant sum of money for Ana’s cooperation in helping them take out the vampires that have invaded their territory, she is tempted to accept.

Certain Dark Things is constantly shifting perspective, from Atl and Domingo, to Ana, to Nick Godoy and the Renfield Rodrigo. Rodrigo has worked for the Godoys for decades, and Nick is the spoiled son of his long-time employer. But this job has gotten out of control, leaving Rodrigo longing for retirement, and an escape from trying to harness Nick’s reckless appetite and careless disregard for caution. The Godoys relentlessly pursue Atl, even as she seeks passage out of Mexico City, while both the human gangs and the local authorities want to eliminate them both. The result is a perfect blend of real world crime drama and urban fantasy lore in this unique new take on the vampire story.

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Interested in learning more? Check out an interview with the author over at Read Diverse Books! 

Shadowshaper

Cover image for Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older by Daniel José Older

ISBN 978-0-545-59161-4

Fair Warning: The last paragraph of this review is more spoilery than I usually get, but it was necessary in order to discuss one of the key elements of this book.

“Her voice carried the voices of a hundred thousand souls in it; a whole history of resistance and rage moved with her.”

Sierra Santiago starts out her summer painting a giant mural of a dragon on an ugly concrete tower, a small act of resistance against the uninhabited building that sticks out like a sore thumb in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood of Brooklyn where her family has lived for three generations. But as she works on her own painting, she begins to notice something strange; other murals around the neighbourhood seem to be fading unusually quickly, and more than once she swears she catches the portrait of Papa Acevedo weeping. The strange happenings raise questions only Sierra’s nearly catatonic abuelo could answer, but he has barely spoken since his stroke the year before. Her mother stonewalls Sierra’s every attempt at getting answers, and meanwhile her grandfather’s old associates have begun to go missing. As she digs into her family history, Sierra discovers a legacy that has been hidden from her for her entire life.

The magic system in Shadowshaper is not particularly well explained, but it is very cool, harnessing the power of creativity and the spirits of the community towards a common goal. Sierra has always had an artistic bent, but she begins to understand that her talent for drawing can be much more than that when she learns that drawings can be animated by willing spirits channeled through the shadowshaper. We see interesting variations of this with her brother Juan, who is a musician, and learn that her grandfather did his ‘shaping not through visual media but with his exceptional skill for storytelling, making his stroke particularly devastating. She also meets Robbie, another young artist who can direct his creations and even his tattoos through his skills.

Shadowshaper strives hard to maintain a fast pace. As such, the dialogue can be a little direct or on the nose, sometimes clearly aimed at moving the plot along. The rest of the time however, Older is able to capture slang on the page in a way that feels quite natural and lively. Similarly, some actions seem a little bit unlikely but again, directed towards making something happen that will drive the story forward. Something gets lost in the way of character development and world-building in this rush, but since Shadowshaper is first in a series, Older has space to continue developing these elements in future books.

As Sierra investigates her grandfather’s old associates, one stands out; a white professor from Columbia University known for studying “urban spirituality systems” had been hanging around with her abuelo shortly before his stroke. As she digs into his past, she hears strange rumours about Professor Wick’s studies, that he was actually acquiring the powers he was supposed to be observing. It is here that the core of Older’s narrative becomes clear; Shadowshaper is an allegory for cultural appropriation, as Wick begins to feel entitled to the knowledge the shadowshapers have entrusted him with, and tries to assume a position of power within the community that welcomed him. If the old guard will not bend to his vision, he will destroy them and begin again, stripping Sierra of her heritage and her birthright in the process. Ultimately it is a cautionary tale about entitlement, and what happens when traditional knowledge meets a Western academy that doesn’t share its core values.

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Fire Touched (Mercedes Thompson #9)

Cover image for Fire Touched by Patricia Briggsby Patricia Briggs

ISBN 9780425256763

“When it had followed me home like a stray puppy the first time, it had seemed harmless. But fae things are rarely what they seem. And even very minor artifacts, given enough time, can gain in power.”

When the Grey Lords send a troll to terrorize the Tri-Cities, Mercy and Adam lay down the law, declaring the region pack territory without considering the potential ramifications. Then a once-human child who has escaped from Underhill after hundreds of years knocks on their door, seeking to claim sanctuary from the fae in their newly declared territory. The boy has superhuman powers, and yet is powerfully afraid of being sent back to the reservation. Taking him in would prove to all comers that the Columbia Basin Pack is serious about protecting their territory, but it may also provoke the all-out war between the fae and the werewolves that the Marrok has been trying to avoid.

Mercy and Adam’s declaration forces the pack to draw together, preparing for the rest of the Tri-Cities’ supernatural residents to test their resolve and their ability to defend their territory. The fae begin targeting their friends and family outside the pack, including Adam’s ex-wife, Christy. Christy sheltered with the pack in the last installment, Night Broken, and caused no end of trouble, so this time Adam chooses to dispense her to a tropical locale, getting her out of harm’s way. As well as Patricia Briggs handled that drama in the last installment, I was glad not to revisit it in Fire Touched. There are some significant—and long overdue—developments for the pack dynamics in this installment, but this progress, which comes early in the book, allows the focus to turn to the increasing tensions with the fae.

From the vast legion of secondary characters spawned by this series, for Fire Touched Briggs brings in Thomas Hao, master vampire of San Francisco, and his fae companion Margaret Flanagan. The two were featured in the short story collection Shifting Shadows, where the tale “Fairy Gifts” recounts their meeting. Margaret has come to the Tri-Cities to give her final refusal to submit to the Grey Lords’ order that all fae retreat to the reservations, and prove that she has the power to enforce that refusal. Other significant players in this volume are Zee and his son, Tad, who are long-standing characters, as well as newer additions like Joel, the tibicena Mercy brought into the pack in Night Broken. Certain fae also play a significant part, as it becomes evident there are rival factions even among the Grey Lords.

Fire Touched mixes action sequences with more emotional interpersonal moments. Mercy and Adam have a long overdue conversation about the way some members of the pack treat her. While Adam is busy dealing with the fall out of their new situation, Mercy realizes that a new member of the pack who has been sent to them from the Marrok’s pack of troubled and damaged wolves is still suicidal, and only asked to come to the Columbia Basin Pack so he could find an opportunity to act on that impulse. And when Mercy and Margaret meet, Margaret uses the opportunity to pick Mercy’s brain about how to get Thomas to stop treating her like an invalid. Perhaps working on the common criticism that Mercy does not have many relationships with other women, Briggs seems to be kindling a friendship between the two, but their conversation doesn’t exactly pass the Bechdel-Wallace test. Mercy also briefly reflects that she should make more of an effort to stay in touch with her college roommate, Char.

Though there are a lot of emotional moments, the pack also battles a troll and responds to surprise attacks around the Tri-Cities, keeping the action rolling. After being in a holding pattern for several books, development may finally be underway for human-fae relations. The Columbia Basin Pack also seems set to take on even greater significance in the werewolf world, and it will be interesting to see how that shakes out. There is no plot information available yet for the next installment, but if I had to put my prediction hat on, I would guess that Adam may be challenged for leadership of the pack by an outside contender. As always, Briggs leaves me antsy for the next volume.

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Dead Heat (Alpha & Omega #4)

Cover image for Dead Heat by Patricia Briggsby Patricia Briggs

eISBN 978-0-698-18463-3

“But that is the dual gift of love, isn’t it? The joy of greeting and the sorrow of good-bye.” 

Charles and Anna travel to an Arizona ranch to visit Joseph Sani, an old friend from Charles’ past, and buy Anna a horse for her birthday. However, the leisure trip turns into work when a Fae targets the Sani family, and begins replacing local children with simulacra to hide their kidnappings. The journey also proves to be an emotional one for Charles, who must face the fact that his old friend has become an old man, but is still steadfastly refusing the Change.

I got off on the wrong foot with this book, because it opens with Charles and Anna having a disagreement about possible ways to work around the fact that werewolves can’t have children. Reproductive angst doesn’t generally work for me as a plot device, but Patricia Briggs manages to bring it off fairly well by tying it into the larger themes of the book, including family, life, and death. The fact that the Fae they are tracking is targeting children ties their disagreement into the mystery, and Anna’s desire for a child is book-ended by Charles struggling to come to terms with Joseph’s mortality. Overall, it has a nice symmetry, even though it isn’t my favourite plot point.

Briggs also dedicates a significant amount of time to horses and horsemanship. In addition to Anna’s search for a horse, the Sanis are horse breeders, and are preparing for a big show when Charles and Anna visit. Dead Heat includes lots of details about horses, breeding, and showmanship, much of which does little to drive the story forward, though Brigg’s unbridled passion for her subject is clear. Your mileage this aspect of the book will vary according to your interest in horses.

Though I didn’t particularly enjoy two major aspects of this book, Dead Heat has a solid central mystery and important character development. We get a glimpse into Charles’ past, which he rarely talks about, and this helps Anna understand where his staunch opposition to trying to have children comes from. The Fae situation, which has been a bit of a cold war in Briggs recent books, is also starting to heat up, and looks set to be a significant issue in both the Mercy Thompson and Alpha & Omega series going forward. The next Mercy Thompson book, Fire Touched, is due out in March 2016.

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Cover image for Shifting Shadows by Patricia Briggs You might also like Shifting Shadows: Stories from the World of Mercy Thompson

Shifting Shadows: Stories from the World of Mercy Thompson

Cover image for Shifting Shadows by Patricia Briggsby Patricia Briggs

eISBN 978-1-101-60950-7

“Humans, in her experience, were weak and fragile things prone to dying and breeding with about the same frequency.” 

As the subtitle of this short story collection might imply, Patricia Briggs’ popular protagonist, Mercy Thompson, does not feature at all in many of the stories in Shifting Shadows, or appears only in passing, or by mention. Rather, many of the stories feature secondary or other minor characters from the series, allowing them to briefly take centre stage. The collection consists of four new stories, and six previously published works, along with two bonus scenes, outtakes from drafts of Silver Borne and Night Broken. Each work is introduced and contextualized by the author, along with a note about where it fits in the series timeline.

Perhaps the best of these is the previously published “Alpha and Omega” which follows Bran’s son Charles to Chicago during the events of Moon Called, where he meets his new mate, the Omega wolf Anna. Charles and Anna jump to life on the page, with fantastic chemistry, and Briggs’ fans can be forever grateful that her editor took one look at the story, and asked Briggs if she could write Charles and Anna their own series, leading to the publication of Cry Wolf in 2008.

“Seeing Eye”, featuring the white witch Moira and Tom of the Emerald City Pack, has a similar energy, and fans have long been hanging on Briggs’ promise that she will write more about them (perhaps their own series?) in the future. Moira and Tom first appeared together as a couple in Hunting Ground, but “Seeing Eye” goes back before the events of Moon Called, to their first meeting, and the realization that Tom can be Moira’s eyes. This tantalizing story will only makes fans hungrier for their story to get its own book.

Another standout is “Roses in Winter”, which finally follows up with Kara, the youngest known survivor of a werewolf attack, whose father approaches Mercy for help in Blood Bound. In addition to revealing the fate of an off-page character who sparked a great deal of curiosity among fans, “Roses in Winter” also develops another popular character, Asil, who has been living with the Marrok’s pack for fifteen years, expecting a death which is slow to come. While “Alpha and Omega” and “Seeing Eye” were both previously published, “Roses in Winter” is one of the new stories in this collection.

Some of the stories in Shifting Shadows are beginnings and stand alone quite well. Others gain most of their resonance through their connection to Briggs’ larger world, which fans have come to know and love. In general, the stronger stories are those which feature popular series characters who don’t normally star. Warren gets his own detective story in “In Red, With Pearls” and “Silver” delivers Samuel and Ariana’s tragic backstory, only hinted at in the series. The exception to this rule is “Redemption,” a story about how Ben’s protective pack instincts are slowly eroding his misogyny, which should be redemptive as the title suggest, but instead is unfortunately bland. However, the majority of the stories in the collection are interesting either for what they reveal about some of our favourite characters, or the glimpse they offer into a corner of Mercy’s world that we don’t normally get to see.

Urban Fantasy Mini Reviews: For a Few Demons More/A Kiss of Shadows

For a Few Demons More (ISBN 9781400104536)

Cover image for For a Few Demons More by Kim HarrisonAfter starting out with Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison and reading the first four books in The Hollows series in print, I had mostly decided the series wasn’t quite my thing. I was annoyed by the frequent spelling and grammar errors, cringing at a lot of the dialogue, and not really enjoying the constant stand offs between Ivy and Rachel. While browsing my library’s audiobook collection for something to alleviate the boredom of packing to move to a new apartment, I downloaded For a Few Demons More, narrated by Marguerite Gavin, which follows Rachel as she tries to solve a series of supernatural murders plaguing Cincinnati. Listening to the book in audio form sometimes highlights the bad dialogue, but not having to read the print pages took care of the fact that I was constantly being jarred out of the story by weird spelling errors. Combined with the fact that Rachel and Ivy have mostly stopped setting one another off every other chapter, I was actually able to really get into Harrison’s fast-paced action and enjoy this story. It seems that audio rather than print is the format for me to enjoy this series.

A Kiss of Shadows (ISBN 9780345490650)

Cover image for A Kiss of Shadows by Laurell K. Hamilton If I had looked into this book a little bit more before impulse purchasing it as an Amazon Kindle Daily Deal, I probably would have known that A Kiss of Shadows by Laurell K. Hamilton wouldn’t quite be my thing. I like my Urban Fantasy with a side of Romance, but this is really more Romance, or even Erotica, with a side of Fantasy that is only incidentally Urban. Merry Gentry is a fae princess who has been hiding among humans in Los Angeles, escaping the wrath of her aunt, Andais, Queen of Air and Darkness, and the Unseelie Court. Working for a detective agency, she stumbles over a case that involves the fae, and leads to her aunt discovering her whereabouts. But it seems that Andais has had a change of heart, and wants to bring Merry home to choose a consort, and help continue the faltering fae bloodline. While Merry makes for a strong and well-developed central character, I was struck by the relative lack of other female characters of any depth. Queen Andais mostly plays to type, and there are only incidental encounters with Merry’s Gran, and her childhood friend Keelin. Otherwise, the cast is overwhelmingly male. I also didn’t particularly enjoy the idea of Merry being welcomed home on the condition that she become a brood mare for the court. Overall, this series is definitely not for me.

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More Urban Fantasy

Skin Game by Jim Butcher

Dark Currents by Jacqueline Carey

Skin Game (The Dresden Files #15)

Cover image for Skin Game by Jim Butcherby Jim Butcher

ISBN 978-0-698-15789-7

“You think your power is what shapes the world you walk in. But that is an illusion. Your choices shape your world. You think your power will protect you from the consequences of those choices. But you are wrong. You create your own rewards. There is a Judge. There is Justice in this world. And one day you will receive what you have earned. Choose carefully.”

Ever since he became the Winter Knight, Harry Dresden’s friends and allies have been watching him with a wary eye, afraid that he might go dark-side. Now, Mab is compounding their fears by loaning out Dresden’s services to pay off a debt, forcing him to work hand-in-hand with his old foe Nicodemus Archleone, Knight of the Blackened Denarius. Nicodemus is planning an unprecedented supernatural heist, involving not one, but two, highly secure vaults. If they succeed, they will have pissed off both the Baron of Chicago, and a Greek god. If they fail, the entire team will be worse than dead. But even if they can pull off the heist, Dresden can’t trust that Nicodemus won’t betray them all once he has acquired his target. To make matters worse, Dresden is operating on a tight deadline; he only has three days to help Nicodemus complete the job before the parasite that has been growing in his head utterly incapacitates him.

From Changes to Cold Days, Harry Dresden’s world as we came to know in Storm Front has been turned upside down. Dresden has been stripped of his basement home and its laboratory, his wheezing car, the Blue Beetle, and forced to send Bob, Maggie, Mouse and Mister to new homes as he lives in isolation on Demonreach. Where Cold Days revealed the cosmic battle with the Outsiders and the true role of the Winter Court, setting up the universe for Butcher’s end game, Skin Game is much more about important turning points for Dresden’s character. Variously deprived of his magical abilities, and the power of the Winter Knight’s mantle, Dresden must rely on his friends, even as they face a crisis of faith about his intentions. That said Skin Game is still, in Butcher’s own words, “a major league slugfest,” featuring powerful supernatural villains and important plot developments that will have repercussions for the rest of the series.

This generally excellent adventure comes with what I have come to think of as the usual caveats for this series. This volume in particular focuses on heavily on the more theological aspects of the Dresden universe, which have become more pronounced as the series has gone on. Butcher handles these ideas well but, they are unappealing to many fans. Similarly, there are the usual off-putting passages about Dresden as a manly-man with manly urges, and some tiresome over-sexualization of the female characters. That said, if you are still reading this series at volume fifteen, you have probably come to terms with these aspects of the story, even if, like me, they aren’t your favourite part.

Caveats aside, Skin Game comes with all of Jim Butcher’s usual witty banter, pop culture referential humour, frantic action, and extra twisty plot turns. Book sixteen, Peace Talks, will focus on a supernatural power summit intending to redress the imbalance of power created by the collapse of the Red Court. Undoubtedly this will fix everything and the series will end early.

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