Twisted Magics by J.C. Jackson: A Great Spin on Contemporary Fantasy Kicks Off a Promising Series

Twisted MagicsTwisted Magics

by J.C. Jackson
Series: Terra Chronicles, #1

Paperback, 220 pg.
Shadow Phoenix Publishing LLC, 2016

Read: August 30 – 31, 2018


I had a brief conversation a couple of weeks ago with J.C. Jackson and she described the book as “Science Fantasy” and told us a little about the series. Something about fantasy characters but with modern technology, but phrased better. Not really getting what she said, I asked why not just call it Urban Fantasy, and she gave a decent answer — basically that she didn’t have enough vampires or werewolves in the books so readers told her she couldn’t. I was a chapter or two in to the book when I figured out what she was saying.

In your mainstream Urban Fantasy, you have fantasy creatures — wizards, druids, werewolves, fae — popping up in our world. On the other end of the spectrum (or an other end, anyway) you have things like the Eddie LaCrosse novels or the Dragon Precinct books that have modern ideas (police squads, private investigators) used in a fantasy series. Jackson takes a different tack — it’s a typical fantasy novel in that there’s a lot of magic, elves, halflings, Dark Elves, living next to humans — very standard kind of thing, but their technology matches ours (actually, it’s slightly more advanced). I loved this approach and there’s a good chance that I’d have had nice things to say about the book just because of this idea.

I do have more reasons to say nice things, though.

Ketayl is an Elven mage who works as a a CSI-like lab tech for the Terran Intelligence Organization (a FBI-like organization). Her strength is in finding ways to use devices to do forensic investigation of magical elements of particular crimes. She’s not the most socially adept of people, clearly more secure in her lab and with clearly drawn rules governing her interaction with others.

Then there’s an explosion in the Elven Territories, seemingly magical in origin — definitely devastating. The TIO director sends Ketayl, along with the rural tracker, Retanei; and Artemis, Retanei’s wolf companion to investigate. Along with the local TIO team — which does their best to bring these agents into their community — they dive into finding those responsible. It’s a kind of magic that doesn’t play by the rules that Ketayl is used to, and powerful enough to make her nervous.

While they look for what could have caused this destruction, we learn more about the world, the magic system and Ketayl. I still have a few questions about all of those and I think some of them should’ve been addressed in the first book — but I never felt lost in this world as I waited for the details to be given. This is a pretty decent thriller when you strip away the fantastic elements, or a pretty decent fantasy tale if you take out the criminal investigation elements. Keep them combined and the whole thing is stronger.

Eventually, the TIO hires a consultant from the Paladins — their kind of music is very different from Ketayl’s. The Paladins are also very prejudiced toward other magic users, and other species. Thankfully, the Paladin sent to help the team (Silver) is pretty open-minded and doesn’t get driven right into a religious conflict (which doesn’t preclude other kinds of conflict). Silver joining the team — primarily partnering with Ketayl — brings her out of her shell a bit.

Ketayl frequently reminded me of Tilly Bradshaw, the analyst from M. W. Craven’s The Puppet Show (one of those books that I somehow haven’t had time to blog about, but you should read, if only for the Ketayl-like character). She’s a complex character that I look forward to learning more about. The rest of the characters — with Silver pretty much being the exception — aren’t as developed as you might like, but you get enough of to satisfy just about every itch you might have.

There were a few too many typos for me, and the misspellings/unfortunate slips like homonym confusion. It wasn’t horrible, but it was bad enough to stick with me.

The novel does a good job of introducing us to the characters and world while telling a compelling story. Jackson’s particular spin on merging fantasy and a 10-minutes-into-the-future world is refreshingly original. I liked the characters, the world and everything — I’ve already gone out and purchased the sequel and am trying to find time on the schedule to get it read.

—–

3.5 Stars

✔ Read a book written by an author from the state where you grew up.

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Pub Day Repost: The Asset by Shane Kuhn

The AssetThe Asset

by Shane Kuhn
ARC, 258 pg.
Simon & Schuster, 2016
Read: June 16 – 19, 2016

Like most of his business trips, the only sights he’d be taking in were those of Duty Free, Wok n’ Roll, Dunkin’ Donuts, and all the other apostrophic, postapocalyptic airport landmarks he vagabonded past countless times a year.

People often made envious remarks about his business travel, not realizing that the homogeneous scenery endemic to virtually every airport in the United States made on susceptible to what Kennedy half-jokingly called “Terminal Illness”–a chronic frequent traveler disease brought on by extreme isolation, fatigue-induced delirium, fast-food malnutrition, excessive consumption of bottom-shelf booze, and diminished social equilibrium. He likened it to extended space travel, but with inferior cuisine.

Unlike, say, Ryan Bingham, Kenney has a noble reason for spending so much time in airports. He flies all over the world — particularly the U.S. — training airport security officers (namely, the TSA). Sure, the TSA has their own training program, but airports will bring him in as a consultant to help beef things up. Thanks to a tragic loss years ago, Kennedy is one of the most invested security experts in the world — he’s more committed to airplane safety than most governments. To say he’s driven is quite the understatement.

At the moment, there’s a security bulletin going around with a warning of an immanent terrorist threat. A few people in the CIA, FBI, NSA, TSA are taking it seriously, but most figure it’s just another in a long line of boys who cried, “wolf.” Kennedy, of course, takes it more seriously than anyone, and is pretty frustrated that he’s so alone in this.

So when he’s approached by representatives of the intelligence community and given the opportunity to do something to stop this threat — not just consult, but act — he jumps in with both feet. And immediately finds himself in way above his head.

Kennedy and the team he joins are racing against the clock — not sure when someone might strike, and really only pretty sure that they will. But if the threats reported are anything close to reality, if this attack goes off, it’ll be worse than anything in history.

Kuhn’s an experienced thriller writer and he knows how to keep things tense and the plot moving. From the outset we know that the attack will take place 64 days from the time we first meet Kennedy. Each time you get to a new chapter and read, “Day X,” you feel the tension ratcheting up (like Lee Child’s 61 Hours in reverse). Kuhn keeps you turning pages as quickly as you can while ignoring the clock and the alarm that’s sure to go off in a couple of hours.

Because of the kind of book it is you that know that certain characters are going to turn out to be something they don’t seem to be, or that events aren’t going to be what they seem to be. But Kuhn pulls most of them off so that it’s unexpected — for example, a plot development that I spent 100 pages for took my by surprise when it actually happened. There is some violence here, but for the genre, it’s pretty tame — it’s not sanitized, it’s not toned-down — it’s just utilized when needed, nothing to excess.

Most of the characters were pretty much what you expect in a book like this — but that’s fine, those are why we read books like this. I don’t need every character to break the mold, I like certain types to be good examples of those types, and Kuhn has many of those running throughout these pages. If Nuri isn’t one of the best/most entertaining examples of she-nerd that you’ve come across lately, I’ll eat my hat. There are a couple of characters that aren’t from the typical thriller cast lists (see the musician, Love) are even better.

I don’t want to compare this too often to Kuhn’s John Lago books, but I have to a little. Those books are marked for their voice, their satire, their off-kilter protagonists. This protagonist is exactly what you expect he is, and is pretty typical for the genre, and the voice is pretty straight. But every now and then you get a little of Kuhn’s voice (always appropriate to character and the work, don’t get me wrong). Like when Kennedy and his team are trying to guess when and where the terrorists will attack, and we get the line, “Terrorists are basically psychotic public relations whores.” Followed by “The choice of 9/11 was basically branding, a tongue-in-cheek play on our emergency number, which makes the date more memorable.” A little snarky and astute, the kind of talk you get around a conference table while brainstorming. The analysis of holidays during this exchange made me laugh.

Basically, he knocked it out of the park. Even some of the twists I guess that we’re shocked when they were revealed nail-biting right up to the end. The Asset is a heck of a stand-alone thriller. If the publisher decides for more adventures of Kennedy, I’m in. I think I like Kuhn’s series better than this kind of thing, but man, this one hit the sweet spot. I hope it brings him a lot of success.

I received this book from a drawing on the author’s website. Mega-Thanks to Shane Kuhn and Simon & Schuster for the good read. As it was an ARC, there’s a chance that the quotations above might not be in the published version, I’ll try to confirm as soon as I can in a couple of weeks.

—–

4 Stars

The Asset by Shane Kuhn

The AssetThe Asset

by Shane Kuhn

ARC, 258 pg.
Simon & Schuster, 2016

Read: June 16 – 19, 2016

Like most of his business trips, the only sights he’d be taking in were those of Duty Free, Wok n’ Roll, Dunkin’ Donuts, and all the other apostrophic, postapocalyptic airport landmarks he vagabonded past countless times a year.

People often made envious remarks about his business travel, not realizing that the homogeneous scenery endemic to virtually every airport in the United States made on susceptible to what Kennedy half-jokingly called “Terminal Illness”–a chronic frequent traveler disease brought on by extreme isolation, fatigue-induced delirium, fast-food malnutrition, excessive consumption of bottom-shelf booze, and diminished social equilibrium. He likened it to extended space travel, but with inferior cuisine.

Unlike, say, Ryan Bingham, Kenney has a noble reason for spending so much time in airports. He flies all over the world — particularly the U.S. — training airport security officers (namely, the TSA). Sure, the TSA has their own training program, but airports will bring him in as a consultant to help beef things up. Thanks to a tragic loss years ago, Kennedy is one of the most invested security experts in the world — he’s more committed to airplane safety than most governments. To say he’s driven is quite the understatement.

At the moment, there’s a security bulletin going around with a warning of an immanent terrorist threat. A few people in the CIA, FBI, NSA, TSA are taking it seriously, but most figure it’s just another in a long line of boys who cried, “wolf.” Kennedy, of course, takes it more seriously than anyone, and is pretty frustrated that he’s so alone in this.

So when he’s approached by representatives of the intelligence community and given the opportunity to do something to stop this threat — not just consult, but act — he jumps in with both feet. And immediately finds himself in way above his head.

Kennedy and the team he joins are racing against the clock — not sure when someone might strike, and really only pretty sure that they will. But if the threats reported are anything close to reality, if this attack goes off, it’ll be worse than anything in history.

Kuhn’s an experienced thriller writer and he knows how to keep things tense and the plot moving. From the outset we know that the attack will take place 64 days from the time we first meet Kennedy. Each time you get to a new chapter and read, “Day X,” you feel the tension ratcheting up (like Lee Child’s 61 Hours in reverse). Kuhn keeps you turning pages as quickly as you can while ignoring the clock and the alarm that’s sure to go off in a couple of hours.

Because of the kind of book it is you that know that certain characters are going to turn out to be something they don’t seem to be, or that events aren’t going to be what they seem to be. But Kuhn pulls most of them off so that it’s unexpected — for example, a plot development that I spent 100 pages for took my by surprise when it actually happened. There is some violence here, but for the genre, it’s pretty tame — it’s not sanitized, it’s not toned-down — it’s just utilized when needed, nothing to excess.

Most of the characters were pretty much what you expect in a book like this — but that’s fine, those are why we read books like this. I don’t need every character to break the mold, I like certain types to be good examples of those types, and Kuhn has many of those running throughout these pages. If Nuri isn’t one of the best/most entertaining examples of she-nerd that you’ve come across lately, I’ll eat my hat. There are a couple of characters that aren’t from the typical thriller cast lists (see the musician, Love) are even better.

I don’t want to compare this too often to Kuhn’s John Lago books, but I have to a little. Those books are marked for their voice, their satire, their off-kilter protagonists. This protagonist is exactly what you expect he is, and is pretty typical for the genre, and the voice is pretty straight. But every now and then you get a little of Kuhn’s voice (always appropriate to character and the work, don’t get me wrong). Like when Kennedy and his team are trying to guess when and where the terrorists will attack, and we get the line, “Terrorists are basically psychotic public relations whores.” Followed by “The choice of 9/11 was basically branding, a tongue-in-cheek play on our emergency number, which makes the date more memorable.” A little snarky and astute, the kind of talk you get around a conference table while brainstorming. The analysis of holidays during this exchange made me laugh.

Basically, he knocked it out of the park. Even some of the twists I guess that we’re shocked when they were revealed nail-biting right up to the end. The Asset is a heck of a stand-alone thriller. If the publisher decides for more adventures of Kennedy, I’m in. I think I like Kuhn’s series better than this kind of thing, but man, this one hit the sweet spot. I hope it brings him a lot of success.

I received this book from a drawing on the author’s website. Mega-Thanks to Shane Kuhn and Simon & Schuster for the good read. As it was an ARC, there’s a chance that the quotations above might not be in the published version, I’ll try to confirm as soon as I can in a couple of weeks.

—–

4 Stars

Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh

Shovel ReadyShovel Ready

by Adam Sternbergh

Hardcover, 256 pg
Crown, 2014
Read: May 1 – 3, 2014

It’s the near future, NYC has been rendered nearly uninhabitable by terrorist attacks and most of those that are still there aren’t really in NYC — they’re permanently jacked in to a virtual reality, kept alive by IV feeding bags. (think of a dystopian vision of Ready Player One‘s OASIS)

One of the few not hooked to the VR world is Mr. Spademan, a hitman. He doesn’t care who, he doesn’t care why, as long as the money’s right and he’s given a name, he’ll take the job. Once he’s taken the job, you might as well consider it done, he never fails, he never quits.

Well, until this job. Otherwise, it really wouldn’t be much of a story now, would it? Something happens that keeps Spademan from doing what he does — and the aftermath is pretty deadly. Spademan, his friends/allies, and those around them will be fighting for their lives before long as they plunge into a world of the ultra-rich, ultra-pampered and pseudo-religious.

The voice that Sternbergh employs is strong — you want to hear this guy tell his story. It’s a little heavy-handed from time to time — particularly at the beginning. But there’s a purpose for it, I think — at first I thought it was just a product of this being his first novel, but that’s condescending, and blind. Sternbergh knew exactly what he was doing — persevere through the heavy-handedness and you’ll understand why it was there.

A great mix of noir, SF, and suspense — with a little extra thrown in. It’d be easy to just chalk up this book to a fun combination of style, setting, and premise. But it’d be a mistake, there’s real heart here. Heart, genuine suspense, and a good story (yeah, and style, setting, and premise).

—–

3.5 Stars