Tag Archives: Urban Magic

Review #92 The Sleeping Beauty by Mercedes Lackey

When I found this book on sale at a local bookstore, I grabbed it to add to this challenges reading pile, especially as a contrast to the Godmother books written by Elizabeth Scarborough.  Both women have found unique ways of dealing with traditional fairy tale themes in a humourous and most UNtraditional way.  Unlike the last review, this novel actually IS a Harlequin novel since the company owns the Luna Books Division that publishes these fantasy novels… but they are a far cry for the standard format that fills so many bookstore and library shelves.

The Sleeping Beauty falls into the series known as  “A Tale of the Five Hundred Kingdoms” which began with the The Fairy Godmother in 2004. The theory behind the series is an interesting one.  There are 500 kingdoms where Tradition has become a mindless and powerful force that seeks to push characters into the legendary fairy tale roles.  The only defense against utter and total chaos are the Godmothers.  Women who know how to coax the Tradition into certain outcomes through magic, wit or sheer dumb luck.

The Sleeping Beauty deals with a wonderfully funny mix of all the sleeping maiden legends from Snow White and Sleeping Beauty to the more obscure Valkyrie Fire Maiden stories.   Rosamund is a princess whose life has fallen apart at 16 thanks to the Tradition killing off her mother.  After a Huntsman chases Rosa into the woods and tries to kill her, The Fairy Godmother of her Kingdom, who has long befriended the family, tries to bend Tradition to her will by disguising herself as someone else and assuming the role of the Evil Stepmother.  After taking the princess into her confidence and revealing the ruse, they decide that the best solution might be to stage a “Sleeping Beauty” event .  The only problem is that TWO handsome men show up in the clearing at the same time.  With the sudden death of the King on the borders, invasion or conquer seems imminent.  How can a young woman and a desperate Fairy Godmother keep their enemies at bay and still satisfy the Tradition’s longing to create a very Happy or Unhappy ending?

Mercedes Lackey knows how to create great characters and this was one of her funniest adventures yet.  Though the subtle and not so subtle humour may not come as naturally to her as writers like Tanya Huff, she does a wonderful and entertaining job of constantly turning the Fairy Tales we all know and love upside down, sideways and inside out.  I found myself laughing out loud so many times during this story that I may have to go back and reread some of the earlier books in the series.  Since each one stands alone, I can just pick and choose which Fairy Tale I’d like to see her mangle… and I can’t wait to hunt down the newest one in this series Beauty and the Werewolf!

The Sleeping Beauty, paperback format, 408 pages, published in 2010  by  Harlequin’s  Luna Books division

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Review #88 Oath of Fealty by Elizabeth Moon

One of the best things about having favourite authors is that a new story from them can be like the greatest dessert… except without all the calories!  When Oath of Fealty came out in 2010 to continue some of the story lines from The Deed of Paksenarrion, I am sure that I was not the only fantasy reader to let out a WHOOP of joy in the middle of a crowded bookstore!

While over a decade had passed, reading the pages then and sliding back into the story was like a reunion with really great friends… you feel as if no time at all has gone by.  Once I reread The Deed of Paksenarrion for this challenge, I had to read the newer two novels, especially since I have been dropping hints of how much I would like the latest release, in hardcover format, as a Christmas present!

Oath of Fealty continues the adventures of Kieri Phelan, former mercenary duke of Tsaia, whom Paksenarrion helped restore to the throne of Lyonya as the long-vanished heir as one of her paladin quests. While he is adapting to the differences of co-ruling a kingdom with his Elven grandmother, instead of a mercenary company, evil is on the move again within his own kingdom and the one he left behind. Prince Mikeli faces a coup of the most sinister nature.  It appears that a powerful family, the Verrakaien, have been hiding a dark secret which will force the prince to turn to the only member of that family he can trust- Kieri’s former Captain Dorrin.  She has long been exiled as an outcast from her tainted bloodline and may hold the key to the problem… along with powers that were long thought to have been wiped out.

Unlike The Deed of Paksenarrion, where a single character’s experience and adventure were the main focus, Oath of Fealty does a masterful job of telling separate stories within the same novel which intertwine, intermingle and ultimately form a beautiful work of art.  Moon’s storytelling ability has grown over the years, honed by her work on other series.  The details, slowly revealed, about much beloved but minor characters from the other trilogy, allow you to appreciate the richness of each of their lives instead of just marveling at the adventures of one.  Instead of feeling jumpy, like the narratives in The Rise of Nine, Oath of Fealty switches smoothly from one aspect of the story to the next.  It leaves you feeling as if you are watching one episode after another of your favourite shows instead of sitting next to a compulsive channel changer.

Paperback format, 463 pages, published in 2010 by  Ballantine Books/ Del Ray

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Review #86 Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater

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I knew that I was going to like Ballad.  I hoped I was going to like Ballad.  I was worried about being disappointed by Ballad because it was the second book in a series by Maggie Stiefvater.  Linger, her second book after the brilliant Shiver, left such deep scars of disappointment that it took a book like Insurgent to make me trust that second books could be wonderful.

The first few chapters felt jumpy and a bit disjointed, especially when a third narrative was woven into the story.  I almost put the book away on the bookcase, but then I remembered that I’d felt the same way about Lament at the beginning and I kept reading.

I am so glad that I did!

Ballad is the story of James, the dependable friend and sidekick of Lament’s heroine who stands by her side and helps out, loving her completely even when she falls in love with the Faerie who has been sent to kill her.  By the end of Lament, James comes to understand that Dee will never feel the same way about him that he does about her.

Ballad opens with a strange, unsent text message  as Dee’s narrative, then jumps into the story from James’ point of view.  He is studying at the Thornking-Ash School of Music on a special scholarship, but soon discovers that he is surrounded by more faeries than ever before, especially one who seems almost human.  Will he lose his heart… or lose his life?

Once you get past the slow pace of the first few chapters, the story develops into something so captivating and satisfying that you are loathe to put the book down for mundane things such as eating and sleeping.  The book and its amazing characters race towards one of the most satisfying conclusions I’ve enjoyed in a book in recent memory.

KUDOS to author Maggie Stiefvater for this brilliant and enjoyable tale.  I adored how this second book made the series stronger instead of weaker.  The ending was unexpected, touching and terrific!

Paperback format, 388 pages, Copyright 2009, Scholastic Canada Edition (2012)

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Review #71 Lament by Maggie Stiefvater

It was with some trepidation that I opened Lament after my youngest daughter finished reading it. Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver was one of the best new books I’d read a few years ago in the YA category, but the mucking about that she did to the story line with the rest of the trilogy left a bad impression to say the least.  In my opinion, Shiver remains strongest as a stand alone novel and I felt totally disenchanted by the thought that a trilogy was more marketable and profitable.  Shiver’s story was so strong, the ending so startling that I felt in awe of all the possibilities that lay before the amazing characters.  Then the two other books totally ripped apart what I had hoped and imagined, culminating in one of the most dissatisfying conclusions to a series I’d ever experienced.

Given this bias, I am amazed that I added Lament to my challenge list.  The first few chapters were hard.  I found myself thinking that the “impossible odds love story” was just too formula, too predictable and too “young”.  Slowly, Stiefvater’s incredible style and descriptive prose drew me in.  I fought it.  I didn’t want to be drawn into another tale only to hate where the author would lead me.  When the love triangle emerged, I nearly groaned.  Is there no other plot line for young women to read these days? Visions of Team Edward and Team Jacob began to blur my vision.  Luckily, the swift pace of the plot pulled me on and I ended up finishing 3/4 of the novel in a single gulp.

Lament’s ending is wonderful, poignant and satisfying.  I was also surprised to discover that this novel was actually written BEFORE Shiver, Linger and Forever.  The writing seems as mature and polished as in Shiver, so it didn’t feel like a “younger” work.  The novel didn’t try to wrap everything up in a neat package and allowed me to imagine how the story would unfold after this glimpse.  The fact that there is another novel written about one of the characters now intrigues me rather than filling me with dread, so I may see if I can find a copy of Ballad to read before the year is out.

Maggie Stiefvater has plenty of talent to share with the world and with her readers.  Whether or not she can thrive given the current market pressure of selling stories as trilogies remains to be seen.  I blame editors and publishers for that more than the authors.  When compared to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s books, all of whom could stand on their own if necessary, or even Sherrilyn Kenyon’s passionate tales that keep each book self-contained but within a much wider world behind it, I can’t help but feel as if the YA format is missing out on an important lesson…

Just tell one good story at a time.

Paperback format, 356 pages, Copyright 2008, Scholastic Canada Edition

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Review #65& #66 The Godmother and The Godmother’s Apprentice by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

Amid all my Darkover books, I’ve taken a few side tangents into other worlds and writers’ works.  While tidying out one of my many bookcases, I noticed my well-loved copies of The Godmother and The Godmother’s Apprentice by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough.  Once spotted, they just begged to be read yet again.

The Godmother deals with the trials and tribulations of a Seattle social worker named Rose Samson who wishes there were better ways to help some of her clients.  Into the breach appears Godmother Felicity Fortune.  This wonderful character appears to be based on fellow fantasy writer Anne McCaffrey to whom the book is dedicated.  The magic powers that Godmothers have access to in our modern era poses new challenges and strict guidelines as to  how wishes are granted.  Scarborough does a masterful, humorous job of weaving in favourite archetypes in a brand new way.

This is not to say that the book  is all sweetness and light.  The Godmother deals with the horrific topic of sexual abuse, child pornography and pedophiles in a way that wrenches your heart.  As the book races to its conclusion, the various fairy tales intertwine, weaving a rich conclusion that allows the story to still go on.

The Godmother’s Apprentice chronicles the adventures of a secondary character, Snohomish “Sno” Quantrill,  from the first novel who has been offered the chance to become Felicity’s apprentice.  The book features a clever journal narrative by the main character, interspersed with short fairy tales and chapters in the standard third person narrative.  While this may sound confusing, in the hands of a talented writer like Scarborough, it only serves to make the pace of the novel more interesting.

Both of these novels offer readers cleverly told stories, brilliant humour and a depth of storytelling that does not attempt to gloss over the darkness in the world anymore than the original Grimm Fairy Tales.  The results are infinitely satisfying and one of the reasons that these books remain favourites in my collection.

The Godmother: Paperback format, 341 pages, published in 1994 by Ace Fantasy.

The Godmother’s Apprentice: Paperback format, 294 pages, published in 1995 by Ace Fantasy.

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Review #57 No Mercy by Sherrilyn Kenyon

I picked the hardcover copy of No Mercy in a sale bin at a local bookstore to add to my rapidly growing Kenyon collection.  It felt a bit familiar as I read the first few chapters and I have a sneaking suspicion that I might have read a friend’s copy of this.  Regardless, the story makes a lot more sense having now read the Chronicles of Nick series, Archeron and the other novels that I’ve acquired in the Dark-Hunter collection.  Since I am not reading them in pure chronological order, there are a few gaps in background character knowledge that would probably make the reading experience slightly richer, but that is the beauty of having a vast set of books in your personal library – when you complete the collection at some point, you can go back and read them in sequence to fall in love with a sweeping series such as this all over again.

No Mercy deals with one of the most intriguing characters in the series, the Sanctuary club’s bouncer Dev who just happens to be one of 4 quads (4 hunky brothers) and a Were-Bear to boot.  Kenyon has no shortage of imagination when it comes to creating unique characters that break beyond the traditional romance novel mold!  Add a 5000 year old Amazon Dark-Hunter to the mix who is haunted by the death of her husband and child in a gruesome betrayal and you have two people with far more baggage to overcome than your traditional  Harlequin lovers.  The fact that Samia is being hunted by demons who want to use her psychometric powers to find out how to destroy the Greek God Apollo also makes their relationship a little more challenging.

Once again, Kenyon’s blend of riveting story line, fascinating characters and sensual lovemaking combine for a thrilling read from start to finish.  The more of her novels I read, the better I understand how and why Kenyon has attracted such a vast and loyal fan base.  As with previous stories, the characters triumph over seemingly insurmountable odds with determination, sarcasm and cultural references that had me laughing out loud.  I can see that I will have to make more bookshelf space under the Ks again…

Hardcover format, 343 pages, published in 2010 by St. Martin’s Griffin

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Review #53 Acheron by Sherrilyn Kenyon

If Dance with the Devil was one of my favourite books by New York Times Best-selling author Sherrilyn Kenyon, Acheron was the hardest of her stories to read so far.  It wasn’t the length of the novel, but rather how deeply the main character suffered that caused me to take little breaks while reading this book.

Readers of the series know Acheron as the leader of the Dark-Hunters and the first one created as such by the Goddess Artemis.  This powerful novel, however, finally reveals the suffering, agony and humiliation that he endured as a human, before becoming the cornerstone character of her novels.

I’d known from reading her biography that Kenyon had endured some hard times in her life. Until I read the author’s note at the beginning of the book, I had no idea that she was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse herself.

That someone could not only rise above such horror to triumph as she has but also then revisit some of the darkest moments in her memory, as she must have to write some of the scenes in this novel, is a true testament to her courage and talents as a writer.  I hope it was healing for her.  It was certainly empowering to see how this powerful character was able to triumph over their tragic situation and work towards healing.

Acheron is a brilliant novel but very descriptive and difficult to read in place.  It makes your heart ache before it can soar.  If you love this series, then it is a must read for all of the in-depth, key information… but it may move you to tears before you get to the funny parts and the sarcasm Kenyon is so famous for.

Paperback format, 800 pages, published in 2008 by St. Martin’s Griffin

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Review #52 Dance with the Devil by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Back I swing from Darkover novels to Dark-Hunter tales.  I am feeling a bit obsessive right now as the pendulum swings back and forth madly, but it is actually very easy to keep both series straight in my head as I plow my way through them.  For me, this is the true joy of being a natural speed reader. If only I could write my reviews as fast!

Dance with the Devil deals with a surly, unsavory, almost dislikable character from the previous novel named Zarek.  Kenyon was able to plant just enough tiny glimpses of personality under all the gruffness and rudeness that I found myself wondering how on earth anyone could fall in love with this character she’d created.

Always trust a brilliant author.

This paranormal romance starts out in a manner you’d hardly expect.  Astrid is an immortal who has been sent down to judge Zarek in order to decide if he should be executed or not.  Her sight has been taken away so that she is not influenced by the outer appearance of the apparently uncontrollable Dark-Hunter Zarek that she’s been sent to judge. This is a good thing because none of Kenyon’s characters are ever ugly!

Dance with the Devil has ended up being one of my favourite Kenyon romance novels thus far.  The sarcasm was at its most honed, the adventure was thrilling, the characters had other sides to them that made it a fascinating read and the redemption aspect was uplifting in a world where the headlines so often carry only the darkest of headlines.

Dance with the Devil is well worthy of being on anyone’s summer reading list!

Paperback format, 343 pages, published in 2003 by St. Martin’s Griffin

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Review #50 Night Embrace by Sherrilyn Kenyon

From Darkover back to Dark-Hunter novels again.  Night Embrace is the 3rd book in Kenyon’s vast Dark-Hunter series that I discovered after reading her YA series the Chronicles of Nick.  These paranormal romances certainly broke the mold when they first came out at the beginning of this century (that sounds so cool to say!) and Night Embrace is no exception.  Like the first two novels, this pits a paranormally endowed character with a mere mortal so that adventure, mayhem, magic and most of all passion can ensue.  What makes Kenyon’s books so enjoyable is that the characters are ones that the readers come to care deeply about as all their flaws and strengths are revealed.

Talon is a Celtic warrior who has been protecting humanity from things that go bump in the night for centuries, but when a God-driven runaway Mardi Gras float runs him over, the human woman he was trying to save brings him home to nurse him back to health.  Sunshine Runningwolf is unaware of what she’s let into her house and her life.  Her artsy, carefree way of life and open heart seems to offer Talon the perfect one-night stand opportunity as he heals… but will a single taste of her leave him wanting more than he’d bargained for?

The celtic theme woven through this tale made it interesting and engaging without feeling like I was being thumped over the head with historic details that got in the way of the story.  As an author, illustrator and creative soul myself, I could totally relate to the things that kept distracting Sunshine or the clutter that crept in.  All in all, Night Embrace was a wonderful read and it was fun to learn the unfolding details of the Dark-Hunter world that relate back to the Chronicles of Nick.  What a complex world of characters Sherrilyn Kenyon has created!

Paperback format, 408 pages, published in 2003 by St. Martin’s Griffin

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Review #44 Night Pleasures by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Unlike many of the more traditional romance novels, Night Pleasures does not feature a bare chested man in some heroic pose or a slender woman swooning against his rippling muscles.  One of the many things that makes Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark-Hunter novels so unique is the variety of ways in which they forge paths of their own instead of conforming to the expected.

Night Pleasures is Kenyon’s second novel in this amazing series.  It details the struggles that  the Immortal Kyrian of Thrace and paranormal-denying human Amanda Devereaux must face from the moment they awaken handcuffed together.  The forces of evil have mistaken Amanda for her vampire-slayer twin sister, Tabitha, in the hopes that she and Kyrian will destroy each other before the God-forged handcuffs are removed.

The story starts with steamy scenes and handcuffs… then devolves into a romping adventure so blatantly sensual that I found the story hard to read if my teenagers were close by.  Too many questions about why Mom is blushing that deeply!  This book also features the first appearance of Nick Gautier (albeit an older version who has his driver’s license but is still a Squire) and Kyrian’s Spanish housekeeper, Rosa.  There seemed to be  a slight inconsistency or two in some minor details… but since The Chronicles of Nick deals with a future that keeps shifting slightly, these can certainly be chalked up to the eternal time paradox escape clause!

The more I read Kenyon’s works, the more impressed I am with her vivid prose, incredible sensuality and captivating characters.  Her ability to carve out a new genre in the heavily saturated romance novel world is a testament to her writing ability.  The Chronicles of Nick series certainly proved that she doesn’t need graphic sexual scenes to sell a good story… but with the summer on it’s way, I also don’t mind having a new author and a slew of steamy books to make any rainy weather more bearable! Very few “bodice rippers” written by anyone other than Nora Roberts have remained in my household library.  Now that I am beginning to track down the Dark Hunter novels to read in the recommended chronological order, I will need to make more book shelf space among the Ks this summer to accommodate the growing collection!

Paperback format, 309 pages, published in 2002 by St. Martin’s Griffin

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