The Assassin of Oz by Nicky Peacock: A Fast, Strange and Violent Sequel that Tops its Predecessor

The Assassin of OzThe Assassin of Oz

by Nicky Peacock
Series: The Twisted and The Brave, #1

PDF, 180 pg.
Evernight Teen, 2018
Read: May 14 – 15, 2018
I’m not sure what it says about me/the books I read/the world in general, that given the strangeness of the world depicted in this series — the serial killer, vigilante organization, imaginary friend that’s not that imaginary, Native American legendary creature that’s going around killing people — and the even stranger stuff on the horizon of this book, that the hardest thing for me to swallow came in these opening pages. The Prime Minister imposes mandatory capital punishment for murder? That’s just so hard to believe. All the outlandish supernatural stuff just around the corner of that moment seems routine and blasé in comparison.

It takes awhile for this novel to show how it’s related to Lost in Wonderland, although it shares a sensibility and style from the get-go. Because of a couple of references and a news story, you know that this happens in the same world, but the characters are all new for the first two-thirds or so of this book. So when some of the characters from Lost in show up, it almost feels like they’re guest stars.

A 17-year old orphan named Halo is living with her horrible step-father who uses her for a punching bag and a cover for him as he sells drugs, she’s just not sure how to get out of this life when someone calling himself the Wizard shows up to recruit her for his club — Oz. The members of this little club are all murderers, many are technically serial killers at least partially responsible for the re-imposition of capital punishment.

Gavin is a police detective from the States, working with the British police to stop some of these serial killers — apparently Britain is recruiting police officers from around the globe to help slow their slide into dystopia. Gavin and his partner are on the hunt for a killer they call Valentine — who takes the hearts of his victims. A reporter is also trying to get him on board his personal crusade to help exonerate a convicted murder before he’s the first execution in decades.

These actually have more in common than you’d expect — a whole lot more than they’d ever expect or guess. Both end up immersed in the activities of Oz. Which is really about all I can say without ruining everything.

The prose is sharp and sparse — there’s hardly a wasted word. I mean this as a description, not a criticism, but frequently this reads more like an extended outline than a completed draft. It’s a gamble to try it — but Peacock makes that kind of writing work for her.

Fast-paced, focused, imaginative, action-packed and strange. This is an entertaining read — The Assassin of Oz novel delivers what it promises, a genre-mashup full of excitement. This is a solid sequel and does a nice job of setting up the next installment which seems like it’ll be another fun one.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest opinions.

—–

3.5 Stars

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Dark Queen by Faith Hunter: Jane Yellowrock’s latest has everything — including the kitchen sink.

Dark QueenDark Queen

by Faith Hunter
Series: Jane Yellowrock, #12

eARC, 432 pg.
Ace, 2018
Read: April 23 – 28, 2018

I’ve stopped reading the blurbs for the Jane Yellowrock books, so I had no idea what to expect out of this one when I started it. I spent a couple of days planning on how this was a rumination of/celebration of family disguised as an Urban Fantasy novel. Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of action and plot and all the things we have come to expect from a Jane Yellowrock book. But, yeah, family was the overarching theme. But then . . .

But then, Hunter kicks it into high gear and the long-awaited Sangre Duello starts. Which I didn’t expect — I figured we’d get an entire novel (minus an introductory and follow-up chapter, maybe) dedicated to it. Man, am I glad I was wrong — I’m not sure I could’ve handled more of the tension surrounding it than Hunter gave us. Still, everything I’d planned on saying pretty much went out the window.

I’ve gotten ahead of myself. This series (like any that has gone more than 5 books) needs a “Previously . . .” section. Things have changed so much since Jane rode into New Orleans in Skinwalker that it’s almost impossible to remember everything that’s happened. Hunter does do enough in the text to remind you who is who and what they’ve done in the past, so I’m not saying the book is inaccessible. It’d just be nice to have a reminder just where we are in the story without having to re-read eleven novels (not that I have — I’d probably pick up a few more nuances).

The book begins with Leo solidifying his organization. Moving people around, giving promotions, and cleaning house (not as much as he should have, but even someone who’s as politically savvy as Leo isn’t perfect). Part of this is the official recognition and establishment of Clan Yellowrock — which was just so strange. One of the groups that Leo is dealing with is a werewolf pack from the Western part of the US, who are doing some work for him related to the Sangre Duello, who are pretty interesting, and I’d like to see more of them in the future. There’s also a new PsyLED honcho floating around — Rick’s boss and Soul’s underling — and his presence is almost as disruptive to Jane’s world as the European Vampires are.

Then before you know it — there we are, the European Vampires are coming ashore to start the Sangre Duello. Which is basically a series of duels — some to first blood, some to the death (true death, in the case of vampires) — and just about everyone connected to Leo ends up fighting at least once. It is clear from the way this is set up, the way it’s carried out, the way that just about everyone acts during it — that vampires act on a different morality than just about anyone else. Jane has a very hard time with it all, and many readers will, too. That’s good — that means you’re not a monster. I will say that Leo’s psychological games with the EV’s are a lotta fun. If you have much of an emotional attachment to the characters in this series, you will stress out during this part of the book. Not all survive. Not all who do survive do so unscathed. Without saying what happens to him, I didn’t realize how invested I was in Leo Pellissier’s continued existence.

Faith Hunter puts all of her experience, all her skill and talent on display here — and it works. This is really a tour de force for her and it’s just a pleasure to read. On the one hand, I thought the pacing was a bit slow at first and wasn’t sure what she was doing — but at a certain point, I recognized that she knew exactly what she was doing and you needed the slow-burn of a start so that you’d be ready for the almost non-stop action to come. There’s some brave choices she makes here — totally shaking up the series, the status is not quo, as a horrible doctor might say. While that might seem like the kind of thing writers need to do (and it is), it can’t be an easy choice — because no matter what we say, we fans want our comfortable series: where we know that Riker will be Picard’s Number One for far too long, Lisa will be 8, and that one couch at the Central Perk will always be available for Monica’s friends to sit on.

Jane continues to grow and mature, embracing — and even expanding — the emotional ties she has to people in her life, taking on more people to protect and defend. She’s not a loner anymore, and has stopped fighting this reality. It’s great to see. And everything I wanted to say about family is present here, and you’ll know exactly what I was talking about when you read this. And if you’re someone who threatens any of those she’s decided to align herself with? I pity you, because, well, Beast is best hunter, and there’s nothing really that’ll stop Beast/Jane from making you regret that threatening.

If I was a better blogger — or at least one who had better time management, I’d come up with a post just about Eli Younger. I really wish I was that guy — because Eli deserves more attention. As I write this, I remember that Carrie Vaughn gave Cormac a novel to himself (pretty much) — Hunter should consider letting Eli have his own.

This would’ve been a great series finale just as it is. I am so glad that it’s not — Hunter’s got things set up so well for the next couple fo books (at least) that I’m as excited about this series as I’ve ever been. But, Dark Queen could’ve worked as the end. Which is really just to say two things: 1. If you’re looking for a new Urban Fantasy series to start, full of magic, vampires, shape-shifters and more? This series is a great one — but don’t start here, start with Skinwalker. 2. Hunter has tied up a lot of loose ends, a lot of long-going plotlines are resolved (or at least brought to a satisfying resting point), which should satisfy long-term readers. I won’t say that they’ll all be happy about where everything ends up — I’m not — but I will say that it’s nice to have some sense of closure and resolution.

I laughed, I got angry, I cheered, I fretted, I got awfully close to letting water leak out of my eyes — I loved this book from start to finish.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

5 Stars

Book Spotlight: Dark Queen by Faith Hunter

Welcome to our Book Tour stop for Faith Hunter’s Dark Queen, the twelfth (and best — so far, anyway) Jane Yellowrock novel. Along with this blurb about the book and author I’ll be posting my 2¢ about the book in a little bit, although I guess I just spoiled it, eh? The book is released today, you should head out and buy it (or, I guess, surf to the e-retailer of your choice and order it).

Be sure to scroll down to the bottom of this post for a chance to win a complete set of Jane Yellowrock books!

Book Details:

Book Title:  Dark Queen by Faith Hunter
Publisher:  Ace
Release date:  May 1, 2018
Format: Mass Market Paperback/ebook
Length: 432 pages

Book Description:

Jane Yellowrock used to hunt vampires, but now she must fight–and win–beside them.

As Enforcer to the vampire Master of the City of New Orleans, Jane Yellowrock stakes her reputation and her life on keeping her territory safe. But Leo has been issued a blood challenge by the emperor of the European vampires, who seeks to usurp all of his power and possessions. If Leo loses the match to the death, the city will be forfeit, and the people of New Orleans will suffer the consequences. Jane can’t let that happen.

Preparing for the duel requires all of Jane’s focus, but with so much supernatural power in play, nothing goes according to plan. She has to rely on herself and the very few people she knows she can trust to stand and fight. Only two things are guaranteed: nothing is sacred, and no one is safe.

ISBN: 1101991429
ISBN-13: 978-1101991428

Purchase at:

Author Bio:

Faith HunterFaith Hunter is a New York Times and USAToday bestselling author. She writes dark urban fantasy and paranormal urban thrillers.

Her long-running, bestselling, Skinwalker series features Jane Yellowrock, a hunter of rogue-vampires. The Soulwood series features Nell Nicholson Ingram in paranormal crime solving novels. Her Rogue Mage novels, a dark, urban fantasy series, features Thorn St. Croix, a stone mage in a post-apocalyptic, alternate reality. Two of her fantasy series have been nominated for Audie Awards.

Under the pen name Gwen Hunter, she has written action adventure, mysteries, thrillers, women’s fiction, a medical thriller series, and even historical religious fiction. As Gwen, she is a winner of the WH Smith Literary Award for Fresh Talent in 1995 in the UK, and won a Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award in 2008. Under all her pen names, she has over 40 books in print in 30 countries.

In real life, Faith once broke a stove by refusing to turn it on for so long that its parts froze and the unused stove had to be replaced. Her recent hankering for homemade bread and soup resulted in fresh loaves each week and she claims that the newish stove feels loved and well used—because Faith talks to her appliances as well as to her plants and dog. She collects orchids and animal skulls, loves to sit on the back porch in lightning storms, and is a workaholic with a passion for jewelry making, white-water kayaking, and RV travel. She likes the shooting range, prefers Class III whitewater rivers with no gorge to climb out of, edits the occasional anthology, and drinks a lot of tea. Some days she’s a lady. Some days she ain’t. Occasionally, she remembers to sleep. The jewelry she makes and wears is often given as promo items and is used as prizes in contests.

For more, including a list of her books, see www.faithhunter.net , www.gwenhunter.com  To keep up with her, like her fan page at Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/official.faith.hunter

GIVEAWAY!

Win one of two complete sets of Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock novels! Contest runs April 23rd until May 11th.

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Rafflecopter link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/9751c0429/?

My thanks to Let’s Talk! Promotions for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

Have you met . . . D. I. Jolly?

The first book I read in 2017 was Mostly Human by D. I. Jolly — and it was one of my favorites (but man, I’d have sworn it was 2016, man…I’ve read a lot in the last 15 months). We did a little other business via his then-day job at a publisher, and a Q&A. And I’ve really, really intended on coming back for more of his work (as much as I’ve read, there’s more I want to ). Anyway, he’s got himself a snazzy new website and is trying to get some eyeballs on it (and, hopefully, the books he talks about there).

So, click the link above — or this one — and, if you have the inclination, check out my thoughts about Mostly Human and the Few Quick Questions with him.

Scourged by Kevin Hearne: The Iron Druid Chronicles conclude with a bang.

This took me longer to write than I intended. Maybe I should’ve talked about it right after finishing it after all.

ScourgedScourged

by Kevin Hearne
Series: The Iron Druid Chronicles, #9

Hardcover, 265 pg.
Del Rey, 2018
Read: April 4, 2018

So, in a fast 265 pages Kevin Hearne gives us: Ragnarok; a lot of dead vampires; environmental crises; a friendly sloth; puppies; send-offs to many, many characters; shocking deaths; less-than-shocking deaths; surprise non-deaths; and more discussion of poots (elven and jaguar) than one’d expect in this kind of book. The amount that he accomplishes here is really staggering. Some of it, alas, could’ve been deeper — explored more thoroughly — if he hadn’t set out to do so much or if he’d taken more time with some things (and less time with others). Still, this was a heckuva way to end the series.

This is not the book to start this series with, go back and read Hounded if you’re curious (one of the best series kick-offs around), and I’m not going to get into the plot much. It’s Ragnarok. We’ve all known it was coming and now it’s here — ’nuff said. Along those lines, however, Hearne also gets bonus points for including a “where we are in the series” introduction, summarizing the first 8 novels and the short stories/novellas that got us to this point. Again, this should be a requirement for long-running series.

There’s no easy way to say it: there was just too much of Granuaile and Owen. Yes, it’s the best use of Owen since his introduction, don’t get me wrong. But it’s the Iron Druid Chronicles — fine, use the others if you want, but they shouldn’t get equal time to the Iron Druid here in the last book. Especially given the number of things — and scope of action — that had to be accomplished in Atticus’ story, it really should’ve had more room to breathe. That said — for End-of-the-World Showdowns featuring deities from multiple pantheons? This rocked. He wrapped up the story he kicked off in Hammered and Two Ravens and One Crow in a fantastic fashion, full of death, blood and tension. At the same time, he maintained the very idiosyncratic characterizations he’d created for the various gods and goddesses.

Speaking of Two Ravens and One Crow, a small, but fun, point from that comes back in these pages in a way that no one could have expected and added just the right level of fun to the battle.

Hearne did a great job integrating the short stories from Besieged into this book — I didn’t expect to see so much from them carry over to this. It all worked well and set the stage for Hearne to get in to the action of Scourged right away and he took full advantage of that.

There were more than a few things that seemed like they needed better explanations — doesn’t the convenient dog sitter find the way that Atticus spoils his dogs more than a little strange? Given that they’ve known the clock was ticking on Ragnarok, why did Atticus wait until the last second to give Granuaile and Owen their assignments? I mean, it works out well for dramatic purposes, and allows certain plot points to be triggered, but that’s not a good reason for the characters to work that way. At the very least, why weren’t his former apprentice and his former teacher pestering Atticus to lay out his plans long before this? While I eventually saw what Atticus and Hearne were up to, in the moment, a lot of the plan just didn’t make sense. When the world is falling apart, why set someone up for an extended training session (for one example)?

I’m not giving away anything about anyone dying — or living — but we know this is the finale, so we’re seeing the end of stories for these characters. Some good, some shocking, some disappointing, some sad. In no particular order: Laksha got a nice send-off, I really didn’t expect to see her here — and I really appreciated what Hearne did with her. It’s not honestly the ending I’ve had wanted for Atticus — but it’s the kind of ending that Hearne’s been building to for a while now, so it’s fitting. I can appreciate the way that Hearne accomplished his goals, even if I think Atticus deserved better. Owen’s ending was everything you could’ve hoped for. Granuaile’s story was fitting for her — and a good reminder that I stopped liking her a few books ago (seriously, why couldn’t she adopt an attitude similar to Owen or Flidias when it comes to their assignments during the battle?). I would’ve liked to have seen Perun one more time, but he got a good send off in Besieged.

Oberon was sidelined for most of the book — I understand why: Atticus wanted to keep his buddy safe, and Hearne needed to keep things ominous, dramatic and threatening, which is hard to do with everyone’s favorite Irish Wolfhound putting his two cents in (it’s hard enough with Coyote around). Still, we got some good Oberonisms, and he elicited more than one smile from me — and you could argue he saved the day ultimately. If I didn’t know that Hearne was writing one more of Oberon’s Meaty Mysteries, I’d be despondent over not seeing him again.

Scourged wasn’t perfect, but it was very satisfying. If I have to say good-bye to these characters, this is a pretty good way to do it. There was enough excitement, drama, and happenings to fill a couple of books and Hearne got it all into one — no mean feat — and it was a great read. It’s not easy letting go of most of these characters and this world (I mean, apart from re-reads), but I’m glad Hearne got out when he did and the way he wanted to. I’m looking forward to his future projects.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

I’m not going to talk about Scourged by Kevin Hearne today…

ScourgedScourged

by Kevin Hearne
Series: The Iron Druid Chronicles, #9

Hardcover, 265 pg.
Del Rey, 2018

Read: April 4, 2018


I was able to take the evening last night (when this posts, anyway — was just a few minutes ago really) to read the last two-thirds of Scourged while sipping some Tullamore Dew (see yesterday’s rambling). And it was a very satisfying way to spend an evening, no doubt.

My intention was to turn immediately to writing a blog post/review/rave about it, but I think I want to spend some time thinking about it before I start to write. A couple of spoilers about what I’ll end up saying: I really, really, really liked it. It wasn’t as triumphal as a part of me had hoped (“Everybody lives, Rose! Just this once, everybody lives!”), but it wasn’t as grim as I feared (Angel “Not Fade Away”‘s ending). It wasn’t perfect, but it was very satisfying. If I have to say good-bye to these characters, this is the way to do it.

And I’d better shut up before I end up writing a whole post after all.

Good Guys by Steven Brust

Good GuysGood Guys

by Steven Brust

Hardcover, 316 pg.
Tor Books, 2018
Read: March 30 – 31, 2018

Kind of odd, isn’t it? I’m waiting for my chance to kill a complete stranger, and to kill him in an ugly and gruesome way, so I fill in the time by checking out local architecture and museums. How did I become this person? Well, put that way, it was simple: Some son of a bitch had destroyed my life, and he just didn’t give a shit. To him, I’d been another chance to climb a ladder, add zeroes to his bank account, have more people calling him sir. To him, that’s what mattered. Maybe there really is no satisfaction in revenge, but I can tell you one thing for sure: There’s no satisfaction in letting someone get away with ruining your life, either.

And the Museum of Science and Industry is as good as the hype, so there’s that.

In almost every Urban Fantasy series there’s some sort of explanation for how magic/magic beings/magic users/etc. is/are kept under wraps so that we muggles can keep living our lives unaware of what’s going on all around us. Some of it is a by-product of magic/the supernatural that just clouds our minds, some of it is the result of efforts of the supernatural community (or at least part of it) keeping it under wraps. In Steven Brust’s Good Guys, The Foundation is tasked (among other things) with keeping magic off of the radar of mundane people.

Now when you have someone like our above narrator, killing complete strangers in ugly and gruesome ways enabled by magic, that particular task gets more difficult than usual. Here enter our protagonists — a Foundation Investigation and Enforcement team consisting of a very skilled investigator, a young sorcerer, and someone who provides security for them — they might also pick up a little extra help along the way. The team works through a combination of old school detective work, magic, high-tech wizardry and gumption to find the connections between these victims and use that to uncover just who might be behind the killings.

The investigation is well-constructed and keeps the reader guessing and invested. Brust’s jumping between various perspectives is well-done — the touch of only the killer being in the first person is an interesting touch (most authors would have one or more of the Foundation team as first person, with the killer in third) — not just with the team, but with various other individuals within the Foundation, giving a real sense of the scope of this group. The characters are interestingly conceived and executed — the killer’s motivation is easy to understand (not saying it’s easy to sympathize with, but you have a hard time wanting him stopped at all costs). When the pieces finally fall into place, it’s very satisfying.

One of the nicest touches Brust gave this world is a tiny budget for the Foundation — for a global security and research enterprise, they seem to be operating on a shoestring budget — they certainly don’t pay their employees very well. I’m not sure why this tickles me the way it does, but unlike the Men in Black, S.H.I.E.L.D., or any of the other clandestine groups that fill our imaginations — these guys can’t just whisk around the world at the drop of the hat. They have to fly coach at one point, rather than use the teleportation ability of the Foundation.

The members of the team make very little, and live pretty solitary lives (it’s not like they can tell anyone what they do) — there was a humanizing moment for each of them at various points through the story considering a pet to help them fight the solitude (all different potential pets, too).

This was a solid thriller with some great Urban Fantasy touches, a very satisfying solution that rings true. Well-paced, well conceived, and well-executed — in short just what you want out of this novel. A very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. I don’t think this is the first of a series — but if I’m wrong, I’ll gladly jump on the sequel.

—–

3 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge