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Posts Tagged ‘Urban Fantasy’

Daughter of Hounds by Caitlin R. Kiernan
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Roc Trade; paperback / softback edition (January 2, 2007)
ISBN-13: 978-0451461254

 Daughter of Hounds has the dark gritty feel of the popular Urban Fantasy genre, but most scenes take place in small quiet towns, dank cemeteries, and desert wastes. Set mostly in the New England area, Daughter of Hounds is a unique and paradoxical work, with bloody scenes of mayhem and quotes from The Chronicles of Narnia. An orphan woman simply named Soldier and a young girl with stark yellow eyes named Emmie Silvey are somehow tied inextricably together in this story. Soldier is a hit-woman for the mysterious beings known collectively as the Hounds of Cain, ghouls, or ghuls. Canine-like beings from another world, their savage features (and behavior) deny them access to the world of humans; they make their dens below cemeteries and abandoned houses.

Over the centuries, they’ve resorted to stealing away the babies and young children of the people who live above ground, in order to raise them as “changelings” or Children of the Cuckoo, human servants to carry out their business in the sun. The Hounds teach them loyalty, fear, and obedience, as well as contempt for other humans and a taste for meat of any kind.

Any kind at all.

Soldier is one such Child of the Cuckoo. Stolen as a baby, she has no recollection of her life before the Hounds, and is solely and wholly dedicated to them, even as they repeatedly put her life in danger and she sinks into the despair of alcoholism. Soldier is not a traditionally likable character. Her attitude is off the charts and her mouth is in the gutter. She is a foul-mouthed, tough-as-nails kind of woman, who prefers to shoot first, shoot some more, and forget about asking the corpse any questions later. But she does get things done, although usually in the messiest way possible.

She’s rude and vicious to her changeling partners, Saben White and Odd Willie Lothrop, and has no compunctions about shooting down innocent bystanders if they happen to catch a glimpse of something they shouldn’t. Her mentor, the Bailiff, is the only one that can control her, but she’s not so sure the Bailiff is trustworthy anymore, if he ever was. She also has the ability to rewind time, a trick that has saved her life more than once. But there are strange gaps in her memory, and when a job goes horribly wrong, she starts to get the feeling someone is trying to kill her and hide a big secret at the same time.

The confusion Kiernan writes for her is palpable, and half the time it felt as though I had as little idea of what was going on as Soldier did. Every friend is an enemy, and people who should be her enemies turn around to lend a hand at her most desperate moments, causing even more distress. Being a woman neither spares nor impairs her during dangerous moments, and she comes across as strictly asexual, a change from the standard Urban Fantasy shtick. As she tries to complete her assignment, reign in her rogue partner Saben, and figure who and why someone is trying to kill her, not to mention what Emmie Silvey has to do with the Hounds and her, I couldn’t help but pull for Soldier, even though I may disagree some of her methods. She was raised by alien, man-eating ghouls, after all.

Emmie Silvey is eight years old, and the color of her eyes isn’t the only strange thing about her. She’s a precocious and intelligent child, with a very literal mind and a general uncanny ability to make everyone around her uncomfortable, either with her yellow eyes or her blunt questions and answers. Emmie’s wish is for her eyes to be green, her dad Deacon to be sober, and her stepmother Sadie to come live at home with them again. When she meets a strange woman who tells her to beware of horses, Emmie brushes off the encounter. Afterwards, a girl named Pearl starts visiting Emmie in her dreams, and soon reveals secrets about Emmie’s past that shatter every foundation of her life.

The Hounds of Cain want something from Emmie, and they’ll do anything to get it. She is forced to flee in search of Soldier, with the help of Pearl and a woman trapped in a dream of the desert. Emmie doesn’t enjoy the magic she encounters, and some of the scenes she’s forced to see would scar a war veteran, let alone a child. But she powers through, and even amidst all the chaos, manages to find answers to her million-and-one questions about who she is and why everyone is so interested in her.

An eight year old character can be hard to write, but Kiernan manages to cover any defaults with the pre-requisite “precocious” label. If Emmie sounds old beyond her years in some scenes, well, she’s a special kid. There are times, however, when it’s obvious that Kiernan can portray a typical child just fine, as Emmie often comes off as whiney and hardheaded, usually at the most inappropriate times in the story. When she and Soldier finally meet, it’s like oil and water, or perhaps gas and a match. Emmie is an interesting character, and one I’d like to see again in future books. She’s also a bibliophile, frequently quoting lines from children’s and young adult books.

Most of the main characters and several minor ones are women, so this book easily passes the Bechdel Test, with conversations and encounters touching on every aspect of the story. The violence is graphic in some places, but not over-used, and there are implied rape scenes, but nothing explicit, and not exclusive to the female characters. Pearl is referred to as brown, and there’s a brief conversation where she mentions that her mother was a Native American princess. Another character is black, but the color is from an incident in her past, not by birth. Otherwise, the cast seems fairly whitewashed. There are several derogatory references to LGBT characters in the book, but it’s par for the course as far as the language the characters use. A main character likes boys, but it’s more about possible pedophilia then being gay. Not the most diverse, but I have to give props to the bad-assery of all the women involved.

The main problem I had with the book was the ending, which I obviously won’t give away, but after sleeping on it, I see that Kiernan faithfully sticks to her characters’ natures and personalities, even when it would have been easy to write a happy ending. I don’t necessarily agree with it or have to like it, but it feels right for the story. I would definitely recommend this book, although I hope for more diversity and a smidgen less profanity in future releases. There are apparently two previous books in the series, Low Red Moon and Threshold, but reading them wasn’t necessary to understand Daughter of the Hounds, which was written to be a stand-alone.

If you’re looking for Dark Fantasy or Urban Fantasy without the romance, Daughter of Hounds delivers. Strong, dangerous female characters, smart, serious kids, and an ambiguous but thought-provoking ending that will make you wish for more books by Caitlin R. Kiernan.
 

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Check out Caitlin R. Kiernan’s website or follow her on Twitter @auntbeast

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A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire
Mass Market Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: DAW; Original edition (March 2, 2010)
ISBN-13: 978-0756405960

Returning to the world created in her debut novel, Rosemary and Rue, Seanan McGuire absolutely delivers on the promises hinted at in her first publication. We come back to Toby Daye, the changeling woman and private investigator, as she’s working as a knight for Sylvester Torquill, Duke of Shadowed Hills. The Summerlands, the magical realm belonging to the fae, are divided up into different Counties, each one ruled by a Duke or Duchess, who then answer to the local court ruler, in this case a Queen. The Counties correspond to different areas in the mortal world; the County of Tamed Lightning, where the main story takes places, corresponds to the city of Fremont, California.

Sylvester has asked Toby to check on his niece January Torquill, the Duchess of Tamed Lightning. She has failed to check in for over three weeks, and Sylvester has become concerned that something sinister is happening in her County. Toby heads out with Quentin as her assistant, a young fae who was introduced in the previous book. The situation they find at ALH Computing, the headquarters of January and her team of technological fae, is much worse than anyone could have expected. What started as a dream of bridging new technology and the Realm of Faerie has turned dark, ugly, and deadly. It’s up to Toby, with the help of Quentin, Tybalt the King of Cats, and Connor the Selkie, to stop the deaths and get to the bottom of the mystery.

Toby is much more together in A Local Habitation. She’s sharp, quick, and logical, and goes about solving this series of magical crimes like any good P.I. Investigation is the key here, and Toby has got it down. Her character is much more centered, which makes sense in the storyline because she’s had more time to recover from her fourteen year imprisonment as a fish. She’s a woman who has finally figured out her purpose and she doesn’t hesitate to pursue the facts of a case, whether she’s meticulously searching through mounds of paperwork or using her fae abilities to try and read the blood of those who’ve been killed. Her decisions make sense, and the progression of events is well-thought out without being obvious. The mystery stays indistinct up until the very end, as a good mystery should.

January herself is a little flat. There’s so little time to get a feel for her character during the events of the book, I think more could have been done with her. More interaction between the two main women would have been nice to read. Gordan, one of the fae that works for January, has much more background explained than her boss, and is at times really funny with her biting, abrasive attitude. Quentin and Tybalt are much more developed, but poor Connor is still mostly a pretty face set to tempt Toby into indiscretion. The cast overall is a little non-diverse; most people are described as white, except for Yui Hyouden, a Japanese Kitsune and a minor character. I’m still holding out for more characters of color in future books.

The blending of technology and magic in the story is fascinating, as we meet April, January’s daughter, a dryad whose tree was destroyed several years ago by developers. She has been installed into a computer server, giving her abilities far different from the traditional wood nymph. Her personality takes a while to emerge, but once it does, watch out; this is a tech-fae with strong ideas about how things should work. The idea of using technology to aid Faerie is very unique, and it was handled well in the story, becoming a main driving force behind the mystery. The descriptions never became too technical, but enough was described that you felt the characters really knew what they were talking about.

A Local Habitation is a great sequel to Rosemary and Rue. The best part: it’s not necessary to read the first book before starting the second. It will help, but McGuire is adept at mentioning past events with just enough explanation that you get the gist, without them becoming long drawn out flashbacks or confusing the current storyline. Good characters, an interesting mystery, and an author who continues to improve her books make this a series worth reading. Keep an eye out for An Artificial Night, coming out in September 2010.

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Check out Seanan McGuire’s website or follow her on Twitter @SeananMcGuire

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Devon_MonkDevon Monk is an urban fantasy author on the rise. She writes the popular Allie Beckstrom series and has published many short stories. She also has a not so secret passion for knitting, which you can learn more about on her personal website.

Q1: What draws you to write urban fantasy?

DM: The draw for me on one level is the chance to explore the unknown, the strange, the dark, the beautiful, mixed and contrasted with the more expected reality of day-to-day life. On another level, I like the fast-pacing, humor, mystery, magic, and relationship aspects of it. Plus, urban fantasy is a blast to write!

Q2: What was the first piece you ever had published?

DM: I did some articles and stories for a local outdoors magazine, but my first published fantasy was a short story, “Chosen Bond” in a now defunct magazine, Distant Journeys. The $10.00 check is framed in my office.

Q3: What did it feel like?

DM: It felt like I was standing in line to ride a rollercoaster and suddenly it was my turn, and the gate lifted, and I lucked out and got the front seat. I was so excited, I grinned for days.

Q5: How long have you been writing? What keeps you writing?

DM: I’ve been writing with the goal of publication for about 18 years. I keep writing because I love it. I love to learn. Writing has taught me so much about not only the world and the power of story, but also about myself.

Q6: Who are some of your influences? (Authors, Personal Friends, Teachers, etc.)

DM: Oh. Hard question. I grew up reading the authors my parents read: Roger Zelazny, Anne McCaffrey, Robert Heinlein, Zenna Henderson, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Henry Kuttner. I particularly loved Zelazny, McCaffery, Bradberry and Kuttner. I later discovered Raymond Chandler, and fell in love with his prose too. I think all of these authors have influenced my writing.

Q8: There are three books in the Allie Beckstrom series, with a fourth one, title Magic on the Storm, set to be published in May 2010. How many more books will you write for this series?

DM: At the moment I’m contracted for six books. If readers like them well enough, and they sell well enough, I hope the publisher will pick up another three books, bringing the series to nine books. I originally had nine books in mind for the series, but as I’ve been going along, I’ve discovered there are a lot of other things I could explore in Allie’s world. So who knows? I’d like to write at least nine, and if luck is with me, maybe even more.

Q9: Which of the books is your personal favorite and why?

DM: Great question! Magic in the Shadows was my hands-down favorite. I had so much fun writing it and discovering new characters I really enjoy. I think the book digs into the dangerous, exciting side of magic, and Allie continues to grow and learn and become stronger and face tough challenges. Then I wrote Magic on the Storm and it immediately became my favorite. More magic, more danger, more betrayal, more unrequited love and action, action, action. It is still my favorite so far, but then, book five isn’t done yet!

Q10: When did you first start to create the interesting magical system and was there any particular inspiration for it?

DM: I was asked to write a short story for an anthology with the theme of magic and business. Short stories take a lot of world building even for a small amount of words. So I knew I’d have magic, it would need to cost something, it would be a part of the “mundane” world, and something would be at risk because of magic. When I decided magic could be a natural resource like natural gas, coal, or electricity, that’s when it all started falling together.

Q11: What made you tie magic to pain?

DM: Everything in life has a trade off, and I wanted my books to reflect that reality. I knew magic had to cost something, but it needed to be a price anyone—the rich, the poor, the young, the old—could pay. And it needed to be something people didn’t want to pay. Pain, whether just a small ache, or a crippling agony, fit the bill nicely.

Q12: Is Allie Beckstrom based off of anyone in real life?

DM: A lot of people ask me that—it’s a good question. She’s based off of all the strong women who I’ve known who have found that strength isn’t necessarily swinging a sword or shooting a gun. Strength is the ability and courage to take every challenge that comes your way and go forward, even if you’re afraid, even if you don’t know if you’ll get through it, even if you don’t know how to do it, and somehow still maintaining your grace and humor.

Q13: Do you feel that, as a woman of action, Allie serves as a role model?

DM: I feel that Allie, as a strong woman, could be seen as a role model. She’s more than willing to step up and handle anything that comes her way, but isn’t trying to be anyone’s definition of kick-ass, or strong, or tough. She’s not letting other people tell her who she is. She just tries to do what is right for her heart and soul, and along the way, tries to help the people who she cares about, too.

Q14: The relationship between Zayvion and Allie has become more and more equal as the series progresses, with Zayvion pushing Allie to become self reliant. Do you think romantic partners today could take some tips from that attitude?

DM: I think any relationship is best when there is mutual respect. I think it’s best when both partners can stand on their own two feet, yet also rely on and trust each other to be there if they need them. So, um, yes.

Q15: Do you think that being a woman author has made getting published harder or easier for you?

DM: Who knows? Publishing is a hard business, and I personally, haven’t experienced degradation toward my gender. The only way to find out if it would have been easier to be published if I were a man, would be to somehow go back in time, change my gender and then make all the same choices and actions I have made along the way. And if I ever had a time machine, that’s not what I’d do with it!

One thing I do know is good story trumps all, and cares not one whit if you are male or female.

Q16: Do you see Urban Fantasy as a genre that will appeal to both men and women? Why or why not?

DM: Early on, I assumed my target audience was women, maybe in the twenty to thirty year range. I was so wrong! I’ve received fan mail from thirteen year old girls, sixty-eight year old men, and every age in between. I think the blend of action, paranormal, humor and relationships makes urban fantasy a fun read for everyone.

Q17: Where do you think the future of fantasy is going?

DM: I don’t know, but I hope I’ll be writing it!

Q18: Urban fantasy as a genre has increased tremendously in the past few years. Is that good or bad, and why?

DM: I think it’s fabulous! I know urban fantasy will continue to grow and morph and change, and I can’t wait to see where it will go.

Q19: What are you working on right now? Any other series or stories in the works besides Allie Beckstrom?

DM: I am working on another series, but it’s not under contract yet so I don’t want to give anything away. It’s not urban fantasy but I think it’s something urban fantasy readers will really enjoy. Keep your fingers crossed for me, ok?

Thank you so much for the questions! I really enjoyed being here!

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For more information about Devon Monk and her writing visit devonmonk.com or follow her on Twitter @DevonMonk

You can purchase Magic to the Bone and the rest of the Allie Beckstrom series through Amazon, Borders, and Powell’s Books.

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bookgiveawayAs a special event just for the readers of A Working Title, Devon has kindly offered to send a signed copy of her newest book, Magic in the Shadows, to one lucky commenter. You have 48 hours to comment on the interview using the form below, and on Wednesday morning I will choose one lucky commenter using Random.org. This event is open to all participants, including international readers.

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MagicInTheBloodMagic in the Blood by Devon Monk
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Roc; 1 edition (May 5, 2009)
ISBN-13: 978-0451462671

Picking up where Magic to the Bone left off, we meet up with Allie Beckstrom just as she’s recovering from her last adventure in Devon Monk’s first book. For Allie, magic is still pulling a double whammy on her, making her pay in pain and memory. Because of this, Allie does not remember much of the events that happened in Magic to the Bone, including her relationship with the mysterious Zayvion Jones. She also doesn’t remember the investigation of her father’s death or the events that led up to her strange set of magical tattoos. Thanks to her friend Nora, though, she’s gotten the gist of past events.

When her father’s ghost begins haunting her, however, Allie begins to wish magic could be directed to take specific and very unpleasant memories. Daniel Beckstrom was a manipulative bastard while alive and death apparently hasn’t changed him much. He’s riding Allie to investigate the disappearance of some dangerous new technology that Beckstrom Enterprises developed. Meanwhile, MERC, the magical arm of the police department, wants Allie’s help in tracking down a serial kidnapper who’s been stealing young women with the aid of magic.

On top of all of this madness, Trager, a man Allie helped put away years ago for dealing in illegal blood magic has gotten out and is looking for revenge. He’ll use any means necessary, including her fellow Hounds, to get back at Allie for what she did to him. Add to this a creepy new twist in Allie’s magic that is causing ghostly people to attack her, and you’ve got a recipe for either disaster or a great book.

One of the best parts about this book, though, is the relationship between Allie and Zayvion. He’s not out to be her knight in shining armor, although he’s helped her out of more than a few tight spots. He wants her to learn to control her magic and her life, and many times goes out of his way to help her understand what’s going on. The romance between them doesn’t detract from the book, and it’s not even the main focus, but it adds some nice background music to a thrilling story.

Allie continues to grow and change as a character. After living for years with her head in the sand about how her city really runs, she’s finally started to take a look around. What she sees isn’t all bad, but it’s in no way all good either. People are using magic in ways that are dangerous and even deadly and Allie is out to stop them any way she can. As she does her job as a Hound, she also starts to take responsibility for the life she ran away from. Reconnecting with her stepmother Violet is one part of this, but she also starts to realize she has more friends to call on then she ever knew.

My favorite side character in the storyline barely shows up for twenty or so pages, but he’s quite memorable. Grant Rhines runs Allie’s favorite coffee shop, Get Mugged, with a friendly and casual style. He’s a big, tall, and handsome guy who just happens to be gay. Grant is quick to come to Allie’s aid, asks few questions of her, and stands up for her when she needs it. I honestly hope we see more of this very warm character, because he’s a breath of fresh air compared to many of the thugs Allie ends up meeting.

Magic in the Blood is great sequel. It develops the characters and the storyline, and answers some questions that were raised in the first book. Too often, authors think being mysterious and close-mouthed about what’s really going on in their created worlds leads to repeat sales. In my case, it just annoys me when you get so few clues about the behind the scenes action. Monk does a good job of revealing answers to older questions, while bringing to light new questions. The complexity of her world continues to grow along with her characters, and that’s absolutely a good thing. This is one urban fantasy that’s headed in the right direction.

Since this book is part of a series, it’s generally a good idea to read the first book and then go down the list. But I think the author does a good job of giving enough background without info-dumping so that you could conceivably pick up the second or third book and just read.

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Check out Devon Monk’s website or follow her on Twitter @DevonMonk

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MagicToTheBoneMagic to the Bone by Devon Monk
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Roc (November 4, 2008)
ISBN-13: 978-0451462404

Allison Beckstrom knows well the first rule of magic: “When you use magic, it uses you back.” Every spell you cast or glyph you shape exacts a price from you, usually in some form of pain, be it a headache, a cramp, or a cold. In Allie’s case, she sometimes also loses pieces of her memory. The bigger the magic, the bigger the pain. Some magic users don’t want to pay that price, so they Offload it, put it on someone innocent in order to avoid the pain themselves. Then it’s up to people like Allie to bring them to justice, using a technique called Hounding.

With the help of magic Allie increases her five senses, allowing her to track the taste and smell of a particular spell or magic user. As a Hound she ends up in some very dangerous situations, but this is one woman who won’t let pain or peril stop her. Not only is she dedicated to preventing the misuse of magic, she’s also got something to prove, specifically to her CEO father, Daniel Beckstrom. As the inventor of the system that allows magic to be used like any other natural resource, her father has become a wealthy and powerful man. But he’s a man with seemingly no conscience, capable of Offloading spell prices onto others without blinking an eye, used to ordering Allie around and making her do what he wants.

This is book is very well set up. The magic system is interesting and unique, allowing us to imagine what the world would be like if we could turn magic on with a switch, the same way we turn on the lights in a room. Easily accessible, and free to use, at least in monetary costs. Tying magic to a price you must pay in pain leads to interesting moral dilemmas, such as how much pain are you willing to pay to use the spells you want? What if you could make someone else pay for you, whether they wanted to or not? These are old questions dressed up in a new package, and the results are very exciting.

Allie Beckstrom is a young woman with some issues. She’s got daddy issues, and poor little rich girl issues and love life issues. On top of all that, she has to keep a journal just in case magic makes her pay part of her memories. But her sheer determination to do things her own way and in her own time makes her a compelling character. Allie is not a physical fighter; she must use her knowledge of magic and her deductive skills to solve the cases she takes on. Of course, there still manages to be lots of action scenes in this book.

The rest of the characters are fascinating in their own right. When she meets a man named Zayvion Jones, Allie first thinks she cannot trust him. But as he goes out of his way to help her over and over, he starts developing as a character and as something more for Allie. He’s also a character of color, although which non-white nationality he comes from isn’t explicitly stated. Allie’s best friend Nora is also a complex woman. She chooses to live away from magic, out in the country where the power systems for magic haven’t reached yet. She and Allie are closer than sisters in some ways, and she’s a constant steadying force in Allie’s life.

Overall, this book honestly kicks ass. Magic to the Bone has a unique system of magic, an interesting and sometimes very flawed heroine, and a great cast of supporting characters. Devon Monk has done a great job of making herself stand out in the extremely popular Urban Fantasy genre. If you like smart, funny, and dangerous heroines, read this book. I’m very much interested to see how Allison Beckstrom will develop as the series progresses.

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Check out Devon Monk’s website or follow her on Twitter @DevonMonk

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sf sitemoxylandIn Moxyland, the gap between the haves and the have-nots has spread to a Grand Canyon sized gulf. Set in the near future of South Africa, it follows the interweaving story of four very different kinds of people. This was a great book to read, I once referred to it as cyberpunk-chic and I stand by that tag. I’ll be interviewing the author, Lauren Beukes, in a couple of months for Author of the Week so check back for more information about Moxyland.
nekropolis
Matt Richter is good at doing favors for people. A former cop, he’s good at finding things out and making people talk. He’s also very, very dead. Nekropolis was an okay book. There were definitely some rough patches in the story, places that didn’t line up quite right. But there was a lot of potential in Waggoner’s book, and I’m hoping that as he gets more practice, Matt Richter will become a permanent figure on the Urban Fantasy landscape.

To read the full reviews, head over to SF Site. Just click on the book covers.

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Author of the WeekNext week’s Author of the Week will be urban fantasy author Devon Monk. Don’t miss it on Monday, November 9th! Three reviews will cover her Allison Beckstrom series, Magic to the Bone, Magic in the Blood, and her newest release, coming out tomorrow, November 3rd, Magic in the Shadows.

As an added bonus, Ms. Monk will be offering a signed copy of Magic in the Shadows to one lucky commenter on her interview. You’ll have 24 hours to comment, then I’ll announce the winner Tuesday afternoon. This book giveaway is open to international participants as well. I’m really excited about this giveaway, and I hope to see lots of great comments next week.

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