Urban fantasy

Nightlife, NYC-Set Urban Fantasy from Rob Thurman (Cal Leandros series, Book 1)

Author’s note: Written August 23, 2016

This was my second read-through of this novel, done so for the purpose of refreshing my memory on the series in order to start reading the newer books that I never got to. Because now there are 9, and I have only read 4 (and a half) of them, I have a ways to go.
I read this first in high school and fell indelibly in love with the characters and the story, so I restarted this book with a very high opinion of it. Upon reexamination, I find that there are places where the prose gets a bit... unwieldy? Which is to say that sometimes Thurman's sentence structures don't flow quite right, and get too long, or seem to be missing a connecting word that might make them easier to understand. Especially in the first third of the book, there were multiple times where I had to stop and reread a sentence at least once or twice in order to actually determine what was meant, or the tone. I didn't find that it diminished the overall strength of the novel, though (for the most part).

Cal Leandros is only half human, and the other half is the ugliest of ugly monsters. His mom is an alcoholic fortune-telling "gypsy" (they're Romani; it's the term used in the book, although it is a slur, so I apologize for using it) who'd do anything for money (hence: Cal), but his older brother is the only real saving grace of the group. Niko—blond, strong, and wickedly intelligent—is Cal's savior, mentor, best friend, and companion, and the only reason this story doesn't go belly-up.
Cal and Niko are on the run from what they've dubbed Grendels, the nasty monsters responsible for Cal's non-human genetics. The boys have taken up residence in New York City, where non-human life is equally as common as anything else but goes unnoticed.

When shit hits the fan yet again, the two make plans to leave town and run, but leaving just isn't in the cards. They meet a very, very old creature by the name of Robin Goodfellow, a nasty troll named Abbagor, and then shit really hits the fan, and Cal is possessed by a real monster, whose tag-team plans involve the Unmaking of the World™.

Despite reading a bit like a "first novel" at times, the story is captivating and, at times, moving, although admittedly slow-moving at the start. Thurman does a good job of making the reader care about each of these characters and their fates. Furthermore, the entire duration of Cal's possession is written phenomenally well, because the perspective swap is flawless, and as the struggle for ownership of Cal's body begins to increase, the change in narrative/emotive display/etc. is so subtle and gradual that, unless you're good (or have already read it once and therefore know it's coming), it's very easy to miss.

The hiccups in sentence structure don't detract significantly enough from the story to mark it down from a 4-5 star rating, personally. Nightlife is definitely worth reading if you're a fan of urban fantasy lit, the interplay of brotherly relationships, and intense amounts of sass. Especially if you're looking for UF that isn't half sex scenes. I like my lit porn as much as the next human, but I also appreciate a strong UF novel that doesn't partake.

Changeless: Gail Carriger (The Parasol Protectorate, Book 2)

Author’s note: Written in 2015

Alexia Tarabotti is back! Now married to Conall Maccon, Alpha of the Woolsey pack, and promoted to Muh Jah on the Shadow Council for the Queen of England, life is busier than ever. All of the military regiments overseas have returned to England—and there's at least one setting up camp on her front lawn—and there's a rather peculiar force turning all members of the supernatural set human, at least in a particular area. When that space begins to move northward toward Scotland, following her husband, Alexia decides to follow him via dirigible. Forced into traveling with escorts, Alexia is joined by her French maid Angelique, her husband's claviger Tunstell (who is entirely in love with her friend Ivy Hisselpenny), her antagonistic half-sister Felicity—who is particularly angsty as the youngest sister is in the throes of planning her marriage, and—not to be outdone—her close friend Ivy Hisselpenny, who is newly engaged to one Captain Featherstonehaugh (but kind of irrevocably in love with Tunstell).

Before she leaves, however, she meets one particularly interesting French woman by the name of Madame Lefoux, who daylights as a hatmaker, but is a brilliant inventor behind closed doors, and was commissioned by Conall to make her one helluva parasol... that does everything but function as a parasol.

What's most interesting about Madame Lefoux is that she dresses in men's clothing, tailored to fit and accentuate her female body. She wears pants and waistcoats and cravats and the whole bit. It's glorious, if a bit scandalous. There are also some indications that she may be bisexual, as there is an interesting sexual/romantic tension between her and Alexia, and this all makes a very interesting commentary on sexuality and power in [modified] Victorian society. Whether that says anything about Alexia is kind of unspecified, although her "discomfort" might lend some clue.

On the dirigible, it becomes apparent that somebody is trying rather hard to rid England of Alexia, first by poisoning her food (which unfortunately affects Tunstell instead) and then by pushing her off the edge of the deck and apparently wrestling with Madame Lefoux. Alexia saves herself on the side of the beast, however, and makes it back to safety no worse for wear.

Once in Scotland, the group meets up with her husband and travels to Kingair Castle, where they are met with a surly, unattractive woman who is introduced as Conall's great-great-granddaughter. Alexia doesn't take too kindly to the sudden realization that her husband had been married once before and he never told her. Frankly, I can't blame her.

While in Kingair, at least as many issues arise as are solved. The source of the humanizing agent turns out to be a mummy brought back from Egypt. The individual ransacking Alexia's room and trying to kill her is her French maid, who had at some point in her past—surprise!—been romantically involved with Madame Lefoux.

But the real kicker to this book is the ending. And I'm telling you, I got so mad I fumed. I almost threw my book.

Alexia is pregnant. Surprise of the ages, since, theoretically, supernaturals are incapable of producing offspring. But despite the fact that Alexia couldn't possibly have slept with anyone else and certainly wouldn't lie about it, her bloody husband flips out and starts swearing at her in front of everybody until she and Madame Lefoux leave for London.

Now. Believe me. I understand that it looks bad. And Conall is emotional (at best). But this was simply uncalled for. He married a preternatural, which had never been done before, so I don't know why he couldn't believe that the union would be capable of producing something no one ever had before: a baby.

Soulless: Gail Carriger (The Parasol Protectorate, Book 1)

Author’s note: Written in 2014, this writing style is no longer indicative of my modus operandi, but I stand by the gist of my points herein.

CONTAINS SPOILERS. BE ON YOUR GUARD.

Soulless is the first novel in a series of 5 by Gail Carriger, a writer who is both hilarious and brilliant, and unquestionably has my loyalty after just this one novel.

I read it in the span of about a day and a half, just purely because I was so into it. And I was putting off my homework. As per usual. So sue me. (Don't, please, I beg you.)

Although the common mythology is that vampires and werewolves lack souls because they're "undead" if you will, Carriger has flipped this concept around, instead claiming that they have an excess of soul, which is what allows them to be supernatural in the first place. Alexia Tarabotti, our heroine, is what they refer to as a preternatural, or an otherwise normal human being who has been born without a soul. What this means is that she counteracts all supernatural-ness; coming into contact with a supe causes an immediate reversion to humanity for the werewolf/vampire/ghost in question, which is particularly interesting and, at times, sort of dangerous. This soullessness is, in fact, hereditary, and she got the trait from her Italian father, a heritage she and her family are most embarrassed about because they are, after all, British in the nineteenth century. (From my studies, I've gathered that this disdain of foreigners was a pretty solid thing for these people; whether or not it still holds is up in the air.)

Because supernaturals are "public," if you will, there had to be some manipulation of history in order to account for it all. It's actually quite genius, the way that things are perfectly accounted for and addressed. I wasn't even expecting such interesting developments. Also, there is an overseeing organization called BUR--an acronym I've unfortunately forgotten at the moment, and my novel is across the room, and I'm naked and in bed, so I'm not getting it to tell you. Suck it--headed by one Lord Maccon, the 20-years new Alpha of the Woolsey pack.

Alexia is particularly bold and educated in the sciences, etc. Her father is dead and has been for quite awhile, and her mother remarried a proper Brit and had two more daughters--and I'll be the first to tell you that Alexia's entire immediate family is a group of bloody twits.

Anyway. The plot of this novel is that roves (independent vampires not connected to a Hive--as opposed to a coven) are going missing, and new, uneducated vampires are randomly showing up. Not only that, but Alexia's being targeted and followed and such. Drama and hilarity ensue, and untoward romance sparks between Alexia--considered a spinster at age 26--and Lord Maccon, which is also bloody hilarious, I should mention.

The remainder of the plot and such is certainly worth discussion, but I'm not going to thrill you with it because it simply won't do to elaborate on the entire plot, now, will it? What would be the point in ruining it? Regardless, it's definitely worth a read.

The Midnight Mayor: Kate Griffin (Matthew Swift Chronicles, Book 2)

Author’s note: Written prior to 2014, this writing style is no longer indicative of my modus operandi, but I stand by the gist of my points herein.

The Midnight Mayor by Kate Griffin

And so it continues.

Surprise! Swift survived the first novel. It got a bit hairy back there what with all the fighting and the murderous intentions. Secret societies, organizations pitted against magic (for "religious reasons"), psychotic colleagues, etc.

This novel opens just as abruptly as the last one did.

Matthew answers a public phone (because he will always answer the phone when it rings; it's part of who he is) and is blasted back down the street. And now he's being attacked by spectres, which are particularly rare for London. All I'll tell you is that the tools for their demise include beer and a cigarette. Happy imaginings. =]

Let me give you a visual of a spectre:

You've ever been strolling around a city and you see that kid shuffling along in a hoodie with the hood up and headphones going in, bobbing along to a beat that only they can hear? Now imagine said kid without a face. Just a gaseous space holding clothes in the proper shape. Now you've got a spectre--but you can hear their beats, and not all spectres bob to the same rhythm.

It's been said that, should the Ravens ever leave the Tower of London, should the Stone ever break, should the Wall be defaced, the city of London shall be damned. The Midnight Mayor's job is to protect the city--provided the Midnight Mayor actually exists, since Swift seems terribly skeptical--but if the city requires a protector, clearly there are things it requires protection from. Correct?

I am sure you have already deduced a few things with the help of the above paragraph coupled with the title. Namely, that the Midnight Mayor has died, that the position has been transferred to Matthew Swift, and that the city is in pretty deep shit.

Suddenly, the phrase "GIVE ME BACK MY HAT" is graffitti'ed across the city, written on the London Wall, on the wall where the Ravens were killed, on the window of the business housing the broken Stone--everywhere. Significant? You bet your ass.

Griffin does such a marvelous job creating suspense and then systematically untying knots which tie more knots until finally the whole thing comes undone at the end. You can't help but be drawn in, be captivated by her vivid imagery and intense, peculiar descriptions of things. She uses such unexpected language that catches you off guard but gives you a perfectly exact picture of what it is you're looking at and it's amazing. She has swiftly (hahahaha) become one of my very favorite and most inspiring authors--and it only took two novels. (One, actually, but we'll say two.)

Happy reading!

A Madness of Angels: Kate Griffin (Matthew Swift Chronicles, Book 1)

Author’s note: Written prior to 2014, this writing style is no longer indicative of my modus operandi, but I stand by the gist of my points herein.

And so it begins.

Matthew Swift is a sorcerer in London, but it is immediately apparent that he is more than that. He has been resurrected after having been dead for approximately two years.

Before the night is out, Matthew is attacked by a "litterbug" (a summoned monster composed of, you guessed it, garbage. Which, for the record, he defeats with a dustbin. Not to ruin it. It's a marvelous scene.

Newly resurrected, Swift's sole missions are to (a) find his murderer and return the favor, and (b) find who resurrected him, find out why, and then, quite likely, kill them as well.

So the novel progresses and you learn more and more peculiar things about this Swift, but things are still left unsaid, left in the dark and unexplained, leaving an air of mystery and suspense until finally the truth is spilled--but not all of it. Only one set of truths. As the book progresses, truths are revealed in clusters until finally the book ends and the final shoe finally drops. The perpetual mystery and vague confusion coupled with the peculiarity of the narrative--due to the intrinsic peculiarity of the narrator--are large parts of what keep the novel moving at the Andantino cum Accelerando (a little faster than "a walking pace" but steadily speeding up) tempo that it does.

 The prose is marvelous and intriguing; Griffin doesn't write in chapters. Sections are broken up with white space or " * * * "; larger sections are broken up as "Part One: [Title]", "The First Interlude: [Title]". It's fascinating. And I totally love it. But there's also a number of places where the writing totally breaks into stream of consciousness style, which is also terribly moving in-context. (Also because I know things you don't. hahaha.) It can catch you off-guard if you allow it to, but if you just get lost in the text as you're reading, it just works right into the story. Some of the paragraphs are these great, barely-connected run-on sentences (one or two sentences total in the paragraph) and it's magnetic. It really keeps you moving through the material because it's different in that it's a frequent change in prose style, which catches your attention even when you aren't conscious of it.

Happy reading!

Parched; The Seventh Sister: Z.L. Arkadie (Parched, Books 1 and 2)

Author’s note: Written prior to 2014, this writing style is no longer indicative of my modus operandi, but I stand by the gist of my points herein.

Parched by Z. L. Arkadie

Parched is the first book in the so-named series by Z.L. Arkadie. I found the second book (pictured below), The Seventh Sister, free for Amazon Kindle, and because I was bored and it was about vampires, I downloaded it. Upon its completion, I discovered that it's part of a series, which led me to book one, Parched.

The general idea is that Clarity, the protagonist of the first novel (but not the second), can essentially read minds and emotions off the people around her. While in college she meets a man by the name of Baron Ze Feldis, and it turns out that he's a vampire, or in the terms of the novel, a Selell.

Now, as it turns out, Clarity is one of seven, only three of whom do you meet by the end of this novel: Clarity, Adore, and Fawn.

Arkadie creates an interesting "other" world called Enu into which Clarity ventures to learn about who she is and what's going on.

The novel is packed full of mystery and plot for as short as it is, and it's enough to keep you reading.

Except.

1. Arkadie's prose is kind of godawful. I mean, don't get me wrong, her actual words aren't [usually] at fault, but she throws random commas in random places in which they don't belong, she's constantly separating her "in which"es and she called a fence "rod iron" instead of "wrought iron". I get that these are free books on Kindle, but the other five books in the series are all at least $2.99 and, as cheap as that is, I still feel like it's worth somebody's time to edit these things. They aren't that long; I read them both in a matter of a couple of hours total.

The following point(s) apply to both Parched and The Seventh Sister, which I have yet to discuss, but will shortly.

2. Her protagonists are super subject to Mary Sue syndrome. For anybody who doesn't speak author, this is a very common pitfall of authors *coughcough Christopher Paolini's Eragon coughcough* to "self-insert" the author into a text (exhibit A: Bella Swan via Twilight), or, more commonly as used today, over idealize the protagonist to the point where they are literally better than everybody else present. Prettier, smarter, "The One", "The Prophesy", etc. etc. Everyone wants them, they can do no wrong, you name it. Generally speaking, it's the placing of the protagonist above everybody else and largely assuming or insinuating that they are without fault. It's a huge problem in fiction writing, and the term got its start in Star Trek fanfiction (check Wikipedia). For the record, the term for males in this position is Marty Stu, which is, quite frankly, hilarious.

3. Neither of her protagonists in the first two novels have a unique voice with which they tell their stories, think, act, or reason. Both novels are told in the same storytelling style--which I can't condemn too hard because I understand how hard it can be to change your style--but even so, when you're working with characters who are separate people, they need to be employed with their own voices.

At this point, the question does have to become that of prose versus plot: Is the story itself enough to overpower the pitfalls? Honestly, I'm not certain. The fact that I've downloaded the third book to continue the story leans one way, but the fact that every other page I'm swearing to myself because of blatant, unacceptable errors leans the other. I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads because I did really enjoy the book--short as it was--but these are certainly things that have to be taken into consideration.

The Seventh Sister follows Zillael, the youngest (if I recall correctly) of the seven sisters, who is attending high school and taking care of herself because her mother (who actually isn't) is always out on business trips. Whatever.

Apparently Zillael has the gift of speed, which is one of the seven gifts inherited from her father, whom she has never met.

Zillael's teacher and classmate are also special persons--the teacher a guardian I think and her classmate a Wek (which is sorta like a guardian angel or something; it's difficult to explain), and they're charged with protecting her from Selells/vampires, except that she sort of falls for one? While also falling for the Wek. It's complicated.

Anyway.

That's all I can really say about the second one. I read it ages ago and I'm not especially in the mood to do it again. It was far shorter than Parched, and I read in Parched's afterword thingy that The Seventh Sister was more of a filler short or some such a matter. But it was fun. And it was free!

It is still subject to the same complaints as mentioned above, though. So. You know.  I still gave it 4 stars on Goodreads, because I enjoyed it. But. You know.

A common complaint of Arkadie's is that she tends to drop a shit ton of information all at once, or over time, and apparently people have difficulty keeping up or keeping it all straight. I didn't have that issue personally, but I'm used to reading really complicated, convoluted, in-depth material where every detail counts (like my Victorian literature for my university classes, for example. Can anybody say Charles Dickens?).  So that's my thing. No judgment on anybody making the complaint, I'm just saying that I'm used to it so it wasn't a problem.

Happy reading!