Tag Archives: fantasy

The Leandros Brothers are Back

Moonshine by Rob Thurman

Cal and Niko are back in New York after saving the world from the machinations of Cal’s unpleasant relatives. With the Auphe out of the picture, Cal’s biggest worries are having to work for his living and keeping his burgeoning love for cute, psychic George under wraps. He and Niko have started their own monster-ass-kicking business with occasional help from Robin Goodfellow and Promise Nottinger, Niko’s vampiric love interest. One of their first jobs is an undercover gig with the werewolf mafia, but what seems at first to be a straightforward assignment quickly goes downhill. When George is kidnapped they realize that they’re caught up in something far more sinister, and now Cal has to conquer his inner monster in order to rescue her. And if that isn’t enough to keep this dynamic duo on their toes, it seems like the Auphe might not be as extinct as they thought.

 

Cal and Niko are as snarky and bad-ass as ever in this sequel to Nightlife. They might bear scars from their previous ordeal, but they’re not letting a little emotional trauma get in their way. Fans of the first book will be glad to see the return of Robin Goodfellow and George, the psychic.

While I love the dynamic between the brothers, it was nice to see Cal operating on his own for a bit in this book. Niko wasn’t always there to sweep him out of trouble and as a result we got to see Cal step up and hold his own against the baddies. He even got to do some brother rescuing himself.

Cal still struggles with his nature, but there are some new angles that bring out the depth of Cal’s character. He knows he’s not a monster – that was covered in the first book – but now he has to overcome some scary Auphe-like rage and emerging abilities that remind him of a time best left forgotten. I’m really impressed with how Rob Thurman has created this character that is so easy to love without shying away from the darker, grittier aspects of his being half monster. I especially liked that Moonshine begins a discussion about Cal’s future with George and all the messy possibilities his dual-nature brings up. It definitely is something that would have been easy to glaze over, but Thurman doesn’t pull her punches.

I would have liked to see more development of Promise as a character. To me she felt a little flat. She’s introduced as a love interest for Niko in Nightlife but not a lot is said about their relationship or how it develops. This is all right at first because it rings true for the style of the book and Cal’s limited viewpoint. She has a much more substantial role in Moonshine, but our knowledge of her doesn’t really grow with that role. She was just there with very little explanation about her background or why she is with Niko at all. I feel like she could be really interesting if given a chance, but we don’t know enough about her to tell. Her interactions with Cal were very promising, and I’m hoping that her character continues to expand throughout the rest of the series.

I’m a big fan of this series. The characters have really stuck with me, and I’ve enjoyed watching them grow – and occasionally backslide. If you want to find other great books, check out my shelves on Goodreads.

I’ve realized I’m rather behind. Rob Thurman just came out with the seventh book, Doubletake. I’ve read the whole series, but as you can see, I’m still reviewing the second one. I’d really like to give a timely review of the newest book, but I’m kind of a completionist, and I feel weird jumping ahead. So what do you think? Should I go ahead and skip to the newest book, or should I plug away and do them all eventually?

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Riyria Review

Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

Royce and Hadrian can steal anything. Want the crown jewels from the capital? They’ll get them for you. How about incriminating letters from a locked tower? Consider it done. So when the two men are contracted to steal a sword the night before a duel, they think it’s just another job; an easy one at that. But instead of a sword, they find the King. Dead. Framed for the murder, Royce and Hadrian must discover the truth before they’re executed for a crime they weren’t even paid to commit. Their journey takes them to a secret prison and a mysterious, powerful man who has been locked away for a thousand years. What they learn from him shakes the very foundation of their beliefs and starts them on a path to thwart a conspiracy that began centuries before at the fall of the empire.

 

I loved this book (or books, since Theft of Swords actually combines the first two books Sullivan self-published, The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha). Sullivan’s style is simple and easy to read, while his characters and plots are wonderfully complex. This is epic fantasy at its best. Large sweeping themes, villains with hidden agendas, and characters that have you running to Barnes and Noble for the next installment (actually, running is out for me, so I sat on my couch and rushed it from Amazon).

Michael Sullivan is not Brent Weeks (author of The Night Angel trilogy). The themes he deals with are not nearly as gritty or dark. Royce and Hadrian are thieves, but their story focuses on the bonds of friendship and the overall goodness of their characters, rather than their illegal capers. The darkness in Royce’s past creeps up behind him, threatening to pull him back, but again and again we see him choose friendship and the possibility of love.

Sullivan weaves his characters delicately yet deftly, laying down a framework and adding details as they are relevant. He respects his readers, trusting them to pick up the clues that reveal Hadrian and Royce as realistic, heroic, and flawed men. When we meet them in the first scene, they are being waylaid by a band of highwaymen. We know nothing about these two men, but by the end of the scene, it’s obvious that they are thieves and they are very good at what they do. Sullivan hasn’t told us any of this in words, but we see it in the way they turn the robbery around, giving the amateur bandits advice on how to do it better next time. We see it when they reveal their name, Riyria, and the bandits react with awe and respect, letting them go on their way with their purses and weapons intact.

Royce and Hadrian’s individual characters are revealed the same way. At first glance, the brawny swordsman and slinky thief may seem like stereotypical archetypes, but through their actions and their painstakingly unveiled histories, you find they are so much more than what they appear to be on the surface.

There were several sections of description that I skimmed. This was my second read-through, and I remember being bogged down by them the first time as well. That isn’t to say other people wouldn’t find them fascinating or beautifully written. The places described really are incredible. But I’m the kind of reader that’s more interested in characters and how they move through the plot. Lengthy paragraphs that paint pictures of the setting just don’t to it for me. Call me a Philistine, but I’d rather be watching Hadrian’s superior sword-work or listening for Royce’s well-timed comments.

I like to talk about characters with disabilities and there is a really interesting one in Theft of Swords. Unfortunately, all I can say about him is that I’m breathlessly waiting to see more of him in later books. He is a secondary character without a lot of time in the spotlight. And most of the reason he is so interesting is because we know so little about him. The point of his character is to be mysterious. I don’t think I can even reveal his disability since it’s kind of a spoiler, and Sullivan does it so much better in just a few lines. This makes it hard to analyze him or his disability. Maybe I’ll get a chance to talk more about him after I’ve finished the series.

If you’re interested, Sullivan also writes a great blog where he talks about his rise through the author ranks and gives tips for aspiring writers. All in all, I think he has created a masterpiece, joining other names like Brandon Sanderson and Brent Weeks on my favorites shelf. Rise of Empire and Heir of Novron conclude The Riyria Revelations. Speaking of which, my brand, spanking new copy of Rise of Empire is sitting next to me right now, calling my name. “Kendra! Read me, Kendra!”My "to-read" stack

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In the Shadow of the Guillotine

The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner

Life has been straightforward for 14-year-old Yann Margoza. As a gypsy, he has the ability to read minds and throw his voice, and he uses these talents to put on magic shows with his mentor, Têtu. But when they encounter the sinister Count Kalliovski, Yann is caught up in events beyond his control and understanding. Têtu is shot and Sido, a nobleman’s daughter, helps Yann escape. He and Sido meet for only a moment, but a connection is formed that will cross borders and span years. Yann manages to leave France just as the revolution begins to take its bloody toll, but he can’t forget the beautiful girl he left behind. Years later, he is still thinking about her, and when he finds out that Count Kalliovski is using Sido for some nefarious purpose, Yann decides he must return to France to save her. As both the revolution and the past threaten to swallow him, Yann perseveres, knowing that he is Sido’s only hope for freedom.

 

It was the cover of this book that caught my eye, but it was the premise that compelled me to take it home. I was intrigued and wanted to see how Gardner would weave magic into the horrors of the French Revolution and how her characters would navigate that bloody time in history.

The beginning was exciting with the introduction to Yann’s character and the distant grumblings of revolution, and the end had a nice rising motion to it- I especially liked seeing Sido facing her own challenges. But what really kept me reading were several compelling mysteries that were introduced. I wanted to know more about Yann’s origins, Sido’s mother’s death, and how Count Kalliovski fit into it all.

I thought this was a very interesting way to look at a certain period in history. The Red Necklace takes place at the beginning of the French Revolution and the facts are accurate, but this was definitely not a history book. The storming of the Bastille and the arrest of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were present, but we saw them as Sido saw them: distant events that only affected her superficially. The Revolution was an important piece of the story and a particularly striking setting, but it was not constantly in the spotlight. It was only brought to the reader’s mind in small pieces as it brushed the lives of the characters and at the very end, where it played a significant part in the climax.

Several problems with this book kept me from really enjoying it. I had a really hard time getting into it. I wanted to like it, but it’s written in a distant third person point of view that I found hard to relate to. For a long time, I didn’t feel like I had any connection to the characters. And even though the beginning and end were exciting, the middle sagged. Years sped by between two paragraphs. Yann passed several milestones as a character, but they all happened offstage with just a bit of exposition to explain them. This made the book drag while I lost interest in both the characters and the story. However, I was surprised to find a lot that I related to in Sido’s character. More on that here.

Also, Yann’s fascination with Sido is what drives most of his decisions, yet I had no idea what he saw in her. They barely spoke a few words to each other through the entire book, but the reader is supposed to believe in this strange compelling love between them that smacks of Romeo and Juliet. Perhaps the fact that their attraction is described as ‘strange’ should explain away all doubt, but it just wasn’t enough for me.

Overall, it seemed like a good book, but I was left feeling vaguely dissatisfied. I felt like it never lived up to its full potential. The Red Necklace is followed by The Silver Blade, but I’m not sure I’ll bother reading the sequel.

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Mastering Magic and Murder

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks

The street rat Azoth wants nothing more than to live free from fear. He will never get that as a thief with an oppressive gang leader. So he seeks an apprenticeship with the most fearless man he knows of, the legendary assassin, Durzo Blint. But Blint isn’t just a common assassin. He is a wetboy, a killer so deadly that even the underground leaders of the city aren’t certain they can control him. He can teach Azoth to be just as fearless, just as deadly, but is the knowledge worth the price? Azoth thinks it is.

And so Azoth becomes Kylar Stern. He must master magic and murder, leaving behind everything he ever cared for, forsaking those who loved him. If he fails, he knows there is only one punishment. To stay alive he must kill. But no matter how good Kylar is at dealing out death, he can never be as heartless as a wetboy is supposed to be. When political intrigue endangers those Kylar secretly loves, he is forced to choose. He must choose between being the perfect wetboy and losing the respect of a loyal friend. Choose between killing his own master and saving the woman he has loved his entire life.

 

This book kept me up at night. Not only did I not want to put it down, but once I did I couldn’t get the characters out of my head. The cast was incredibly compelling, with depths and twists that revealed startlingly realistic motivations.

The hero of the story is an aspiring assassin, and let’s make this very clear: he kills people for a living. Yet there is never any doubt that Kylar is the “good” guy. We know him, we’ve grown up with him, and when his heart aches, ours ache with him. He faces choices that are both heart-wrenching and believable. And while Brent Weeks throws us for a loop every few pages, he is always true to his characters. I may not see a twist coming, but once it’s there, I can’t imagine it happening any other way. And I have a pretty good imagination.

Brent Weeks bravely slogs through poverty and prostitution, betrayal and assassination. Some may even say he goes too far, but for every gritty theme he weaves into his work, there is an answering call to light and honor. This story is about the darkness and violence that runs deep in humanity. It delves into the inherent evil of rape and murder. But above all it is a story of hope, of redemption, and finally of love. Weeks’ surprising, yet appropriate, humor lights the way through some of the darker twists of the criminal mind.

Though the story is cohesive, I did have to reread bits in order to make sense of some of the convoluted politics. I thoroughly enjoy it when an author drops the reader into the middle of their world and expects them to be intelligent enough to pick up the clues that have been left, but I felt as though I was missing something for the first half of this book. Some of the early clues provided were a little too mysterious and the context to explain them came a little too late.

Overall this book was an incredible read, with a good amount of action as well as compelling relationships that developed over time. Brent Weeks used the darker themes of despair and murder to balance and highlight his message of hope. I flew through the last three hundred pages, breathlessly waiting for the hero’s redemption, and I wasn’t disappointed. I, personally, can’t wait to get my hands on the next installment of the Night Angel Trilogy, Shadow’s Edge.

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Dodging Monsters with the Leandros Brothers

Nightlife by Rob Thurman

The world is full of monsters. Cal Leandros knows that intimately, seeing as he is half Grendel himself, and his less-than-human father has been chasing him for years. Cal has no idea what his dear old dad wants from him, but he sure as hell isn’t sticking around to find out. He and his half-brother Niko are determined to stay free and one step ahead of all the nasties that are hunting them, even if it means running for the rest of their lives.

Now it seems like they haven’t been running fast enough because the enemy is on their doorstep, ready to make Cal into an unwilling tool in their bloody world-domination. With Cal’s own dual-nature making things difficult and all his monstrous relatives arrayed against them, the fate of the world seems bleak. Niko may be one bad-ass big brother, but these odds might make even him pause, and hesitation at this point would be deadly for everyone.

 

This book was so much fun to read with its snarky main character and his monster-butt-kicking older brother. Breathtaking fight scenes are liberally interspersed with snappy dialogue and even snappier internal monologue.

Kudos to Rob Thurman, who is a woman by the way, for coming out with such an authentically male voice in a genre filled with female protagonists. Nightlife is not a paranormal romance, not anywhere close. It is a dark, action-packed, urban fantasy. But the jewel that shines through this darkness is the narrator. Compelling just isn’t a big enough word for Cal’s gritty voice and the attitude that drips from every one of his lines. He’s the kind of character that doesn’t just leap off the page, he rummages through your fridge and settles himself on your couch with his feet on the coffee table.

Cal by himself is great, but Cal’s interaction with Niko, and eventually with Robin Goodfellow, just brings the characterization in this book to a whole new level. Robin, who is the original, lusty Puck from Shakespearean legend, provides a comical foil to the two brothers, and the dynamic between them had me laughing frequently. In contrast, the very real, very intense relationship between Cal and Niko made their love and their pain bittersweet and tangible.

While the characters were the ones to really carry this book- heck, they hefted it over their shoulders and ran with it- the plot was nothing to scoff at either. Hilarious and heart-wrenching in turns, it kept me reading long past my bedtime. And it shines consistently through multiple readings. The second time around, I knew what was going to happen, I knew where the twists were, and I still found myself holding my breath.

One of those twists was even more poignant for the extra scrutiny. It isn’t unusual in fantasy to see possessions or brainwashings, but generally the reader gets to sit outside with the loved ones of the affected, watching the results with omnipotent anguish. Without giving anything away, I think I can safely say that it was a unique and chilling experience being inside Cal’s head for the last half of this book.

Some confusing sentence structure and tricky paragraphing did have me re-reading sections for clarity. My only other complaint about this book was that it wasn’t long enough, and I was left wanting more. And lucky for me there is more. Nightlife is followed by Moonshine and it doesn’t look like the Leandros brothers are calling it quits anytime soon.

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