They Promised Me the Gun Wasn’t Loaded by James Alan Gardner: The Newest Canadian Super-Heroes are Back in Action

 They Promised Me the Gun Wasn't Loaded They Promised Me the Gun Wasn’t Loaded

by James Alan Gardner
Series: The Dark vs. Spark, #2

Paperback, 350 pg.
Tor Books, 2018

Read: November 26 – 27, 2018

When I read the first book in the series, All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault, back in January, I said “the sequel can’t get here fast enough.” I didn’t quite expect to be reading it 11 months later, but I’m okay with that.

It’s just a couple of weeks after the events of the previous book, and the newly formed team of superheroes has gone home for Christmas break. Now with just a few days before classes start up again, the team is coming back. In the last book we focused on Kim/Zircon, this time our protagonist is her roommate/teammate Jools/Ninety Nine.

Jools doesn’t even make it out of the airport before she’s dealing with the police and a powerful Darkling — and maybe a powerful Spark artifact.

(Quick reminder: In this world there are two super-powered groups: the Darks/Darklings and the Sparks. The Darks are all the supernatural-types you can think of (and some you can’t): vampires, weres, etc. The Sparks are Super-Heroes and the like (although some have gone astray))

Jools, with a little help from her friends, gets out of that mess — only to find herself signed up for more.

Soon, in an effort to keep this artifact from falling into the wrong hands — Jools finds herself cut off from her friends and in the secret-hideout with a very maverick group of Sparks — a modern-day Robin Hood and his Merry Men. This gives her an opportunity to watch other Sparks in action, to see how they live and think — and come up with some ways to evaluate her new lifestyle. Also, there’s a lot of fighting and nifty tech to read about.

I wasn’t crazy about how little time we got with the rest of the team because of this, but I think in the long run, it’ll work for the strength of the series. And when we get the team together again, it’s even better to see than it was before.

Again, I had a blast with this book. Gardner’s world is ripe with story-telling possibilities and I’m enjoying watching him develop these characters and this world. Jools is a great character — a solid combination of vulnerable and snarky, unwise and ridiculously intelligent — you’ll probably end up with her as your favorite character in the series (at least until book 3). Go grab this (and the other one, too) now.

—–

4 Stars
2018 Library Love Challenge

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Pub Day Repost: Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch: Things get Intense in the Ongoing Conflict between The Faceless Man and The Folly.

Lies SleepingLies Sleeping

by Ben Aaronovitch
Series: The Rivers of London, #7eARC, 304 pg.
Daw Books, 2018
Read: October 3 – 5, 2018

I’ve got to say, I’d much rather be talking about this book in detail with someone else who had read the series than talking about it in spoiler-free form, so much of what I feel strongest about with this book cannot be discussed. Aaronovitch has outdone himself this time — it’s the best book of the series thus far, and that’s no mean feat.

It’s easy — far too easy — when thinking about this series to think of the lighter aspects — the humor, the heart, Peter’s growing pains, the snark, the pop culture references, and whatnot. That’s typically where my mind goes, anyway. But time after time, when picking up the latest novel, or even rereading one, I’m struck by how carefully written, how detailed everything is, how layered the text is — and I feel bad for underestimating Aaronovitch. Not that I have anything against breezy, jokey prose — but there are differences. Nor am I saying these books are drudgery — at all — the stories are fun, the voice is strong, and the narration will make you grin (at the very least, probably laugh a few times, too). In Lies Sleeping part of that care, part of the thoroughness of this novel is how there is a tie — character, event, call-back, allusion — to every novel, novella, comic arc involved in the Rivers of London up to this point — if you haven’t read everything, it won’t detract from your understanding of the novel — but if you have read them all, if you catch the references — it makes it just that much richer.

So what is this novel about? Well, after years of chasing The Faceless Man (and The Faceless Man II), Peter Grant (now a Detective Constable) and Nightengale have his identity, have several leads to follow to track him down — or at least his supporters and accessories (willingly or not). Better yet — the Metropolitan Police Force have given them the manpower they need to truly track him down and interfere with his funding and activities.

During this operation, Peter, Guleed and Nightengale become convinced that Martin Chorley (and, of course, former PC Lesley May) are preparing for something major. They’re not sure what it is, but the kind of magic involved suggests that the results would be calamitous. How do you prepare for that? How do you counter the unexpected, but dangerous? There are two paths you follow: thorough, careful, borderline-tedious policework; and bold, creative, innovative thinking. The two of those employed together lead to some great results — and if Peter Grant isn’t the embodiment of both, he’s . . . okay, he’s not perfect at the former, but he can pretend frequently (and has colleagues who can pick up the slack).

Not only do we get time with all our old friends and foes — we meet some new characters — including a River unlike anyone that Father or Mama Thames as yet introduced to. Mr. Punch is more involved in this story than he has been since Midnight Riot, but in a way we haven’t seen before. Most of the character things I want to talk about fit under the “spoiler” category, so I’ll just say that I enjoyed and/or loved the character development and growth demonstrated in every returning character.

There’s more action/combat kind of scenes in this book than we’re used to. I couldn’t be happier — Peter’s grown enough in his abilities and control to not need Nightengale to bail him out of everything. Nightengale and Peter working together in a fast-paced battle scene is something I’ve been waiting to read for 7 years. It was worth the wait.

As I said before, Lies Sleeping is the best and most ambitious of the series — the richness of the writing, the audacity of the action, the widening scope of the novel, the Phineas and Ferb reference, the epic battle scenes, the growth in Peter, Bev, and Guleed (and maybe even Lesley), the ending rivals Broken Homes‘ — all add up to a fantastic read. Yeah, I’m a fanboy when it comes to this series, and Lies Sleeping made me a happy fanboy. I have no idea how Aaronovitch moves on from this point with these books, but I cannot wait to find out.

—–

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

Night and Silence by Seanan McGuire: Toby Daye’s shattered world gets another blow — can she survive?

I was sure I wrote this up already. How did I take over a month to get this up? Something is wrong with me . . .

Night and SilenceNight and Silence

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Toby Daye, #12

Hardcover, 368 pg.
Daw, 2018
Read: September 6 – 10, 2018

“Um, this IS Toby,” sald Quentin. “We’re always about to die. When we’re not about to die, we’re still about to be about to die. She’s like a Rube Goldberg machine whose only job is generating .life-threatening situations.”

What a difference a book makes — at the beginning of The Brightest Fell, Toby was happy, her life was looking good, she was relaxing — and then trouble struck. At the beginning of this book, she’s probably in the worst straits she’s been in since getting out of the fish pond. Toby and her loved ones are still reeling from and dealing with the repercussions of that last novel (“not dealing with” might be more accurate, but why quibble?). Jazz is messed up in ways that are hard to fathom; her relationship with mentor/champion/sponsor, Sylvester, is in shambles; and worst of all, her fiancé is a shattered version of himself, barely able to be in the same room with her.

And then the other shoe drops (at this point, you might be thinking we’re talking about an Imelda Marcos-sized collection, as many of these have dropped): her very human daughter, Gillian has been kidnapped — and her father and step-mother are accusing Toby.

Yeah, kidnapped again. But this time it’s worse (and the last time was no walk in the dark). If anything is going to prove to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back — this could be it. Toby, May, Quentin — and some other allies band together to find the girl before something happens to her that will make the last kidnapping look pedestrian.

Sylvester is around for a lot of this novel — I was afraid he wouldn’t be. Sylvester has long been one of the — maybe the — best part of the series, and to see him in this state? It took so much away from this book. I know that’s the point, and I want to stress I’m not complaining — but man…it sucked. A lot of the emotional beats to this part of the story seemed to repeat themselves — and I wondered if it was a little filler. I decided that as often as Toby was reassuring Tybalt that they could work through things and get him better, McGuire was reassuring the reader that Sylvester could be recovered. I’m not sure it’s the case, but I’m going with that explanation.

This book has the best use of May since . . . well, probably since we met her in this form. Usually, May is too much in the background for my taste. But not in this novel. She’s strong, she’s emotional — she’s a major player in the events of this novel. We need to see her as active as she is here more often.

The debt that Toby keeps incurring to the Luidaeg is getting huge. Aunt or no, she can’t keep going like this forever, and at some point the sea witch is going to collect. This is going to be horrible.

Along the way, we learn a great deal about Toby’s human family — some of which will make the reader’s jaw drop, all of which will make Toby reconsider things — and like so much of what we’ve learned the last couple of books, what we’ve “known” before wasn’t necessarily right.

This isn’t the strongest Toby Daye novel, but an “iffy” Toby novel is still rocking by other series’ standards. This was a strong, satisfying read — as troubling as it was. And the next one isn’t going to be much easier to read — but I know it’ll be worth it. I don’t know that this is the book to jump on the series with, but it might work. But I can assuring long-term readers that this will scratch that itch just fine.

—–

4 Stars

A Few Thoughts on Changes (Audiobook) by Jim Butcher, James Marsters

Changes (Audiobook)Changes

by Jim Butcher, James Marsters (Narrator)
Series: The Dresden Files, #12

Unabridged Audiobook, 15 hrs., 28 mins.
Penguin Audio, 2010
Read: October 4 – October 10, 2018

Spoilers to follow. This isn’t one of my typical posts, so my typical rules don’t apply.

After starting a few months back, I’ve pretty much stopped posting about listening to the Dresden Files audiobooks — there are only so many ways to say, “I’d forgotten how much I like this story” and “Wow! James Marsters did a fantastic job!” Not only does it get dull to read, it gets pretty dull to write. (okay, there is a challenge on finding a new way to say it, but . . . I’m too lazy to find that enticing).

But I listened to Changes this week and how can I not talk about that?This is one of my favorite novels ever — Top 10, Deserted Island Must-Have kind of thing — highs, lows (and things lower than lows), laughs, tears, anger, shock, joy. Changes has it all (at least for those who’ve been with Harry for a few books — preferably 11).

Listening to the book was a great way for me to experience it again — if for no other reason, I couldn’t race through it and accidentally skim over things in my haste to get to X or Y plot point.

It’s silly as I’ve read everything that comes after this a couple of times, but seeing all the compromises and deals Harry made as his life is dismantled piece by piece really hit me hard. Yet, Harry makes his choices freely and for the best reason imaginable. All for Maggie. The ramifications of his choices and agreements are wide, huge and so-far we don’t know all of them — and Harry’d do it all again, and there’s not a fan in the world that would blame him.

And Marsters? He gets better and better with every book — and this was fantastic. I loved where Mouse got to “talk” — it was the next best thing to reading it for the first time. And, when he got to those lines? You know the ones I’m talking about:

And I . . .I used the knife.

I saved a child.

I won a war.

God forgive me.

I had to hit pause for a couple of minutes before I could keep going.

Sometimes as a book blogger, you get wrapped up in numbers, ratings, book tours, promotion, and all the other stuff — but every now and then it’s great to remember what it is about fiction that gets you into it in the first place. This treat by Butcher and Marsters did just that for me — I was entertained, I was moved, I was a little inspired.

—–

5 Stars5 Stars

Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch: Things get Intense in the Ongoing Conflict between The Faceless Man and The Folly.

Lies SleepingLies Sleeping

by Ben Aaronovitch
Series: The Rivers of London, #7

eARC, 304 pg.
Daw Books, 2018
Read: October 3 – 5, 2018

I’ve got to say, I’d much rather be talking about this book in detail with someone else who had read the series than talking about it in spoiler-free form, so much of what I feel strongest about with this book cannot be discussed. Aaronovitch has outdone himself this time — it’s the best book of the series thus far, and that’s no mean feat.

It’s easy — far too easy — when thinking about this series to think of the lighter aspects — the humor, the heart, Peter’s growing pains, the snark, the pop culture references, and whatnot. That’s typically where my mind goes, anyway. But time after time, when picking up the latest novel, or even rereading one, I’m struck by how carefully written, how detailed everything is, how layered the text is — and I feel bad for underestimating Aaronovitch. Not that I have anything against breezy, jokey prose — but there are differences. Nor am I saying these books are drudgery — at all — the stories are fun, the voice is strong, and the narration will make you grin (at the very least, probably laugh a few times, too). In Lies Sleeping part of that care, part of the thoroughness of this novel is how there is a tie — character, event, call-back, allusion — to every novel, novella, comic arc involved in the Rivers of London up to this point — if you haven’t read everything, it won’t detract from your understanding of the novel — but if you have read them all, if you catch the references — it makes it just that much richer.

So what is this novel about? Well, after years of chasing The Faceless Man (and The Faceless Man II), Peter Grant (now a Detective Constable) and Nightengale have his identity, have several leads to follow to track him down — or at least his supporters and accessories (willingly or not). Better yet — the Metropolitan Police Force have given them the manpower they need to truly track him down and interfere with his funding and activities.

During this operation, Peter, Guleed and Nightengale become convinced that Martin Chorley (and, of course, former PC Lesley May) are preparing for something major. They’re not sure what it is, but the kind of magic involved suggests that the results would be calamitous. How do you prepare for that? How do you counter the unexpected, but dangerous? There are two paths you follow: thorough, careful, borderline-tedious policework; and bold, creative, innovative thinking. The two of those employed together lead to some great results — and if Peter Grant isn’t the embodiment of both, he’s . . . okay, he’s not perfect at the former, but he can pretend frequently (and has colleagues who can pick up the slack).

Not only do we get time with all our old friends and foes — we meet some new characters — including a River unlike anyone that Father or Mama Thames as yet introduced to. Mr. Punch is more involved in this story than he has been since Midnight Riot, but in a way we haven’t seen before. Most of the character things I want to talk about fit under the “spoiler” category, so I’ll just say that I enjoyed and/or loved the character development and growth demonstrated in every returning character.

There’s more action/combat kind of scenes in this book than we’re used to. I couldn’t be happier — Peter’s grown enough in his abilities and control to not need Nightengale to bail him out of everything. Nightengale and Peter working together in a fast-paced battle scene is something I’ve been waiting to read for 7 years. It was worth the wait.

As I said before, Lies Sleeping is the best and most ambitious of the series — the richness of the writing, the audacity of the action, the widening scope of the novel, the Phineas and Ferb reference, the epic battle scenes, the growth in Peter, Bev, and Guleed (and maybe even Lesley), the ending rivals Broken Homes‘ — all add up to a fantastic read. Yeah, I’m a fanboy when it comes to this series, and Lies Sleeping made me a happy fanboy. I have no idea how Aaronovitch moves on from this point with these books, but I cannot wait to find out.

—–

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

Marked by Benedict Jacka: Alex Verus takes some of the biggest risks of his life

MarkedMarked

by Benedict Jacka
Series: Alex Verus, #1

Mass Market Paperback, 310 pg.
Ace Books, 2018
Read: July 5 – 9, 2018

“So who was it this time?” Anne asked as I walked over to inspect the device.

“I can see the future not the past.” The bomb was a stack of plastique packed into the gym bag, the wires ending in contacts stuck into the blocks. It was crude but powerful, enough to blow apart the house, the victim, and anyone else unlucky enough to be within thirty feet or so of the front door. “I suppose I could get Sonder or someone to track down whoever it was, but honestly, I don’t think it’s worth it.”

“It feels a little bit strange that you don’t even bother identifying the people trying to kill you anymore.”

“Who has that kind of time?”

This is one of those books that I wait so long for (not that it was delayed, I simply couldn’t wait to read it) and then after reading it, the draft has spent too many days open with out words filling the space. I don’t know why — I had and have many opinions about what transpired here, but can’t seem to get them out. So, let’s start with the publisher’s blurb and see if that helps:

           Mage Alex Verus is hanging on by a thread in the ninth urban fantasy novel from the national bestselling author of Burned.

When Mage Alex Verus ends up with a position on the Light Council, no one is happy, least of all him. But Alex is starting to realize that if he wants to protect his friends, he’ll need to become a power player himself. His first order of business is to track down dangerous magical items unleashed into the world by Dark Mages.

But when the Council decides they need his help in negotiating with the perpetrators, Alex will have to use all his cunning and magic to strike a deal–and stop the rising tension between the Council, the Dark Mages, and the adept community from turning into a bloodbath.

This is not a book for someone to jump into this series with; I guess, technically it could work — but man . . . there’s just so much you wouldn’t get. But for those who’ve dipped their toes in the water — or have fully submerged themselves in the deep end — this is going to scratch that itch.

Typically, there are more balls in the air than you can easily track — there’s all the new political moves and movers that Alex has to contend with, his continuing efforts to prove to former friends and allies that he’s trustworthy (well, that he shouldn’t be intensely distrusted anyway), there’s a rising sense among the adepts that they need to organize — and Alex is dumbfounded that none of the Light mages seem to see this as something worth paying attention to — and then there’s Richard’s continuing efforts to disrupt Alex’s life. And then there’s all the stuff that Alex hasn’t figured out that’s going on around him yet.

Due to the political office (however temporary) that he finds himself in, and the nature of the threats he’s facing down — this is one of the least personal stories in the series. At the same time, Alex is driven to risk more of himself to save his friends and maybe even save a foe.

I don’t know how to talk about this without spoiling much. I can tell you that as nice as it is for Arachne not to have all the answers — I wanted more of her and that the rest of Alex’s friends get to shine in ways they normally don’t. Also, given where things end, I’m already impatient to get my hands on the next one.

So, I don’t have much to say, but it’s good. Alex Verus fans should grab it, and people who aren’t yet, should check into the series and catch up.

—–

4 Stars

Hostile Takeover by Cristelle Comby: Death’s PI is on the Case in this Strong and Original UF Debut

Hostile TakeoverHostile Takeover

by Cristelle Comby
Series: Vale Investigation, #1

Kindle Edition, 355 pg.
2018
Read: August 23 – 24, 2018

On the one hand, I’m annoyed that something about Bellamy Vale, our P. I. protagonist, is revealed in the book blurb for Hostile Takeover. On the other hand, I don’t know how I could’ve written much without slipping myself (but I appreciated the reveal when I got to it, having forgotten everything I read about the book before starting it). Bell works for Lady McDeath, the daughter of Hades. We’re not given many details of the arrangement (which I honestly enjoy — something I’ll get back to in a minute), but it involves her saying “Jump” and him leaping.

Being her emissary on Earth comes with some real benefits — namely, he survives things, events, situations that he shouldn’t. Which is a real plus for a P. I. who annoys mobsters and supernatural beings on a regular basis.

In this particular case, Lady McDeath wants Bell to investigate a couple of deaths that have been officially attributed to a wolf, but it takes Bell a few seconds to realize weren’t caused by anything from this world. The detective in charge of the investigation (naturally) isn’t wild about P. I.s in general, but has a special kind of distaste for Bell. This makes anything Bell does near the scenes, bodies, or anything else a sticky situation. Stickier yet, things that could do what was done to those bodies aren’t supposed to be in our world. While dying is off the table for Bell, he’s not impervious to pain or injury, and the state of those bodies suggests that there’s a lot of pain and injury waiting for anyone who gets between the creature and his/her/its next victim.

To help him along the way, Bell calls upon a hacker friend, Zian, who is not entirely human; a nosy, ambitious, and fierce reporter; a police detective that he’s in an on-again/off-again relationship with (currently, it’s an off); and a few other local contacts/friends who are aware that not everything is as mundane as most people think it is. Overall, this was an entertaining cast of characters — I think we need a little more to the police detective that can’t stand Bell, because right now, he’s too one-dimensional. But otherwise, this is a good group to start a series with, there’s not one of them I don’t want to see again.

Bell himself is pretty much your typical P. I. character — a loner with a tragic past, dedicated to the work he does, willing to take risks for himself (particularly since he knows no mistake is fatal) — but not willing to put others in the line of fire, he has a hero complex for sure. He’s got a decent sense of humor, a good moral code, and a loyal strike obvious to everyone. The added abilities that come from his supernatural patron are pretty neat and I don’t think I’ve seen much like it before.

You can tell that Comby has worked out a lot of behind the scenes stuff she hasn’t shared with us — exactly what drove Bell to make a deal with Lady McDeath (we get hints, and they aren’t pleasant), what he had to do in order to seal the deal, exactly what deities are active in the world (or what pantheons are), what’s the source of the rules governing interaction between the worlds, etc. Comby had to feel a lot of pressure to spill those beans and she resisted — giving us just enough to ground ourselves in this world, but not boring the reader by drowning him in world-building (also giving her time and room to work out some details to make later books easier to pull off). Recently, I’ve complained about fantasy novels withholding too much world-building so that it’s too confusing for the reader to understand what they’re reading. Comby avoided both extremes and therefore succeeded in giving us a world that intrigues, and makes you want to know more about, without feeling utterly stranded.

I had a quibble or two with the book, nothing major. I do think that the motivation for the Big Bad was too sketchy, and the reveal of their identity was tipped far too soon. Bell was just handed a lot of information without having to pound the pavement too much, which isn’t something that really commends a P. I. to me. But only guessing the identity of the Big Bad far too early bugged me while I was reading it — it’s only when I stopped to reflect on the book as a whole that the rest occurred to me. In the moment, the momentum of the storytelling and the strong voice kept me going. Also, I liked the characters enough that I was (and am) more than willing to overlook a few hiccups.

This is a solidly built and solidly entertaining entry to this series — there’s a lot she can do with Bell and the others (depending which others come along), and it’s a world that would be easy to drop new/different deities/monsters/creatures into. The characters are well-developed and the kind that you want to spend more time with so you can see them develop more — I could just watch Zian (and his dad) talk to Bell for a bit and have a good ol’ time, too. I’m definitely interested in more from this series, and I bet most UF readers who give this a chance will be waiting for book two with me.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion, the only impact that transaction had on my opinion was providing me something upon which to opine.

—–

3.5 Stars