Dreamdark: Blackbringer
by Laini Taylor
448pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.32/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.51/5

Blackbringer is the first book in the Dreamdark series by Laini Taylor and just came out in paperback this month. The second book in this YA fantasy series, Silksinger, will be released in September 2009.

Long ago, the djinn captured all the devils, sealed them in bottles, and threw them into the water. Their magic kept any creature from being able to release the devils back into the world – at least until humans came along. Ever since the “mannies” appeared, they’ve been causing trouble by opening the bottles and letting the devils loose, especially after a particularly crafty one granted one of the humans three wishes. Magpie Windwitch, a young (approximately 100 year old) faery, travels the world with her clan of crows and hunts these devils. One day Magpie and the crows find an empty human ship containing a bottle bearing the seal of the Djinn King himself. The faery uses a memory spell to see what the last thoughts of the humans was and only gets a frightening sense of hunger and darkness.

After following the devil’s trail to a murdered Djinn in Rome, Magpie decides she must visit the Magruwen, the Djinn King himself, to find out just what kind of evil could have such great power. She and the crows then fly to her birthplace at Dreamdark, determined to defeat the creature that would unmake the entire world. What Magpie does not yet realize is that she herself is the only hope for preventing this destruction from happening.

If I were to use one word to describe this book, it would be “enchanting.” The writing is lovely, the characters come alive, and the history of the world is full of mythology. The plot may feel a little familiar and predictable (a special young person – or in this case, fairy – is the one hope the fate of the world hinges upon) but it didn’t matter to me one iota. It still felt fresh, and Taylor did an excellent job of making me feel a sense of wonder at the world she created in this novel. In addition, there are some illustrations of a few of the characters by the author’s husband and they are very nicely done. They actually fit the characters as they were described in the story well unlike many pictures or cover art (ahem, Wheel of Time). Fans of maps should rejoice for there is a 2 page map at the very beginning. (Apparently, fans will also find this book tasty – it says the Library of Congress has catalogued it as 1. Faeries – Fiction 2. Magic- Fiction 3. Fantasty. Get out the butter, salt and pepper.)

The prose flows very well and can be descriptive but not so detailed that I wanted to say, “Yes, very pretty words, now get on with it.” In particular, I found any section about the world and its history very beautifully written. It is very full of mythology from the creation of the world, to the current state of the Djinn, to the origin of the devil that threatens to unmake the world. Although it was not always original, it had a very well-developed backstory with a definite fairy tale feel, and I loved the little details such as how men released the devils because one of them granted a man three wishes.

Throughout the course of the book, many characters are introduced from the fairies to some imps to the crows. My favorites were easily the faeries – fierce, determined, loyal Magpie was very easy to love. Her friend Poppy, who could talk to plants, and the prince Talon, who was born with stunted wings and wanted nothing more than to fly, were also very endearing. The crows were fairly interchangeable but still very likable with their strong inclination to protect Magpie. In a book with so much that is lovely, there was one character who was very much the opposite – the imp Batch, who always had his toes up his nose or was doing something else disgusting. My one complaint about the characters is that they are very clearly good or evil. Magpie and her friends are very brave, selfless, and intent on saving the world. The non-devilish villain is haughty and despicable (and it was very gratifying to see what Magpie accidentally did to her hair at their first meeting). This isn’t a huge complaint since I enjoyed the book anyway, but it was very obvious who was on which side and gave an otherwise lively cast of characters less depth.

The characters had a distinctive dialect, which was really very consistent and well done. I will admit it annoyed me at first, but I have that experience any time I read a book that uses dialect (yes, I am anal and like to read proper English grammar). In this case, I did get over it, and felt it really added personality to the characters once I got used to it.

Overall, Blackbringer was a very engaging story even though the basic plotline was a bit familiar. The characters were not overwhelmingly complex but were very vivid, the writing flowed well, and the details of the world added a lot of beauty to the book. I’m looking forward to reading the next one.


Sins & Shadows
by Lyn Benedict
368pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.17/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.33/5

Sins & Shadows is the first book in the Shadows Inquiries urban fantasy series by Lyn Benedict, who has also written two fantasy novels under the name Lane Robins. Soon after starting the newer of these two books, Kings and Assassins, I read about Sins & Shadows on the author’s blog and was curious. I’d known the release date for Kings and Assassins since last year, and even though this book came out only a week after that one, I had heard nothing at all about it until then. So I immediately decided I must procure a copy and make it my next read after finishing her other new book since I was enjoying it and have a soft spot for her debut novel Maledicte.

Sylvie Lightner has decided to close down Shadows Inquiries, her business as a private investigator of cases involving the supernatural. Her assistant and friend was recently murdered before her eyes, she is constantly watched by government agents, and although she won’t admit it aloud, her worst fear is her darker side. At this point Sylvie has only killed monsters but she worries that eventually she will end up killing people if she continues in this line of work. So she packs up the office and tells her remaining employee and good friend Alex that she is no longer employed and nothing can change her mind.

That is, until she gets a visit from the God of Justice and the Eumenides. The not-so-godly-named Kevin Dunne says he needs Sylvie’s help with finding his lover, who has disappeared. At first, Sylvie resists, but after seeing ample evidence of his godhood and learning that the mortal realm will bend to the god’s will until the missing man is found, she reluctantly agrees to work on his case. The deal is sweetened when Sylvie learns Dunne fully intends to compensate her for her services and can offer her more than money – vengeance against those who murdered her assistant.

Those familiar with the work of Lane Robins will find many similarities in this book, although there are some differences. The modern setting is very different from her fantasy world, but this book still has dark tendencies and the theme of godly influence. While her fantasy novels contain made-up gods, this urban fantasy revolves around a couple of different real-world mythologies and focuses on gods familiar to us – the Greek gods and the Christian one. Also, the prose style is not lush and “purple” like her fantasy books – it’s more straightforward and what you’d expect from the typical paranormal mystery variety of urban fantasy.

I’m in no way well-read in urban fantasy of this variety having only read the first three Mercy Thompson books, the first Rachel Morgan, and Blue Diablo, but this one definitely stood out as different from the others I’ve read. There were no vampires or werewolves (the latter were referred to but did not appear) but plenty of Greek mythology – from Zeus and some of the other gods to the Furies and sphinxes. It was more serious in tone and took more risks – the ending is not 100% happy and wrapped up neatly with a nice little pink bow embroidered with smiley faces. There is actually a devastating consequence that I did not see coming. Then when it did happen, I expected there to be some sort of easy way out (there are gods involved, after all). To my surprise, there was no reversal, though, and it played out the way it should have.

This was one of those books where the plot, the supernatural characters, and mythology made the story for me because I was not particularly emotionally invested in the main character. The story was told from the third person point of view of Sylvie, who was the usual tough, mouthy heroine but she was also less likable than the others I’ve read about – her fears about giving in to her darker side are not unfounded. She’s not all bad and does truly want to protect her friend Alex, but she certainly doesn’t show she cares very often. I found learning more about Sylvie’s background and struggles against becoming the murderer she feared interesting, but I never grew particularly attached to her as a person. It’s not that she lacked depth and believability; it’s that she was often cold and pragmatic, which made her hard to relate to at times. I certainly didn’t dislike her and even liked reading about someone a bit more cold-hearted, but I also can’t say I loved her even though she did have some difficulty with doing what needed to be done. Her character worked, though, and I did like what Benedict ended up doing with it in the end. (Unfortunately, I can’t explain more about what I mean without giving away too much.)

Fortunately, in spite of my tendency to read for the characters, I found I didn’t care that much about not loving Sylvie. Some of the minor characters did appeal to me more, and I do love reading books heavy on mythology. Gods are an added bonus, too, especially if they are powerful yet flawed with some human aspects to their personalities. The gods involved do have limitations to their power and their presence does not mean they can simply make everything better. For instance, Sylvie’s first request for Dunne’s compensation is that he raise her assistant from the dead (but not in an animated corpse sort of way). Dunne says it might be possible, but that depends on if he was killed by another god or belongs to another god. The man was killed by humans but was very Catholic, so Dunne cannot raise him, saying “He’s been taken to the light god’s hands, and He is a most jealous god.”

Although there is a relationship involving the main character in this book, it is not a paranormal romance. The romance is not at the forefront of the story (and the love triangle plot that comes up so often is absent, too).

This has been a hard review to write because I feel like I’m rambling on without giving many examples. There were a lot of plot twists and revelations that I don’t want to spoil and much of what I liked about the book and its characterization occurred toward the end, so I don’t want to say too much about that, either.

Sins & Shadows is a dark, gutsy urban fantasy filled with mythology. The main protagonist is not the most lovable character ever written, but it is still well worth the read for its story and other characters. I’m looking forward to reading the next installment.


Read more about Sins & Shadows on Lane Robins website

I just saw that Lane Robins has a new website and there are excerpts from the two fantasy novels set in Antyre. Since I’ve mentioned them a lot lately, I thought I’d share them with anyone who is interested:

Although her urban fantasy written as Lyn Benedict is mentioned on the site, there is not yet an excerpt from Sins & Shadows (it is supposed to be coming soon, though!). I finished it yesterday and it was very good – dark with lots of mythology, mostly Greek, and it contained a lot of the same themes as her fantasy books. If John hadn’t stolen my laptop for most of the night, I’d probably be halfway through the review by now, but I decided to be nice and hand it over since he turned in his last gigantic paper of the semester today after staying up all night finishing it.

Kings and Assassins
by Lane Robins
368pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: Not Yet Rated
Goodreads Rating: 4.5/5

Kings and Assassins is the sequel to Maledicte, the debut novel by Lane Robins. Since I very much enjoyed Maledicte, I was very eager to read this novel even though my favorite characters from the first book were absent. While it was somewhat different from its predecessor with less focus on relationships between its characters and more on politics and court intrigue, it was still plenty dark with characters who were on the conniving and ruthless side. Kings and Assassins could be read on its own, but I’d recommend those interested in these books start with Maledicte since it does provide some background for this novel and it’s a very compelling story.

Maledicte has disappeared and left behind Janus, the current Earl of Last and the king’s nephew. Ivor, the prince of a foreign country and Janus’s mentor, invites Janus to play cards with him and the foppish Lord Blythe, who ends up losing a lot of money to the far more clever Ivor and Janus. During the game, there is a commotion outside and a bell begins to ring. When the curious Ivor does not leave the game to see what the fuss is about, Janus realizes that whatever is going on, Ivor is behind it. Janus finds King Aris with a gaping hole in his chest, murdered right before the eyes of Lady Last. He’s even more shocked when his wife accuses him of killing the king before all present.

Janus is the king’s closest living relative other than his son, a mentally disabled boy who will never be able to run the kingdom more than in name only. It is said that when people die, Janus profits, and this has been proven true in the deaths of the rest of the Last family. In this case, suspicion could lead to giving Ivor what he wants more than anything – the country of Antyre for himself. Janus must make sure that doesn’t happen while contending with his wife’s recent possession by Haith, the god of death.

Kings and Assassins is a political/court intrigue focused fantasy with battles of wits and the occasional exciting swordfight. The setting is not medieval times as there are pistols and new technology such as cannons is being developed. There is no actual magic other than the occasional curse, and the main fantastic element in this series is the role gods play in the world. In both this book and Maledicte, events are influenced by human possession by a god or goddess.

As with the previous novel, several characters are very flawed, but there a couple of more agreeable ones to balance them out. Janus himself was the most unpleasant character in Maledicte, and although he is still far from angelic, he is more human and likable in this book. I was a little worried that if he had any redeeming qualities at all it would not seem fitting after reading about him in the previous book. However, it did work with the absence of Maledicte since the two of them seemed to be feeding off each other’s more evil tendencies. Janus truly does want what is best for Antyre and that is admirable, but he is also arrogant enough to think his way is always the right way, even if others have more experience than a boy who grew up in the slums. He’s rash, quick to anger, and he has no issues with callously removing those who are in his way. Through the course of the book, Janus does undergo much growth as a character, though.

Janus was my favorite to read about, but I also enjoyed reading about Ivor, Delight and Psyke. Ivor is another cold-hearted politician who will do anything to get his way. Janus probably knows him better than anyone else in court and had this to say when Delight asked if the prince was as terrible as he had heard:

“Ivor? He’s everything charming,” Janus said. “Right up until the moment he steps away from your corpse.”

Delight is one of Janus’s engineers along with his twin brother Chryses and is one of the more sympathetic, kind-hearted characters in the book. Both brothers were removed from court when Delight dressed as a woman and pretended to be Chryses’s date so they could look at the women at an event only open to courtesans and their escorts. Delight’s father disowned him, but Delight has worn women’s clothing ever since to spite his father for doing so.

Although I didn’t find her quite as compelling as the others until later in the book, Psyke is another character who is generally good that one can feel for. Her entire family has been killed and now her king has joined them. When the king died, she was possessed by Haith like one of her ancient ancestors before her and now sees ghosts, including the shade of the woman who killed her relatives. She’s always felt undesirable to her husband, who only had eyes for the controversial courtier Maledicte.

This novel felt a little tighter and more believable than Maledicte, which I loved but thought suffered from an end that wasn’t as good as the strong beginning and middle. Kings and Assassins was equally good from start to finish, but I felt it was not as engaging and fresh as Maledicte and its story of love and vengeance. Maledicte was a more dramatic tale with the court’s reaction to Maledicte and Janus and the conflict between Janus and Gillie (whom I absolutely adored and missed in the sequel). Both novels featured possession by a god/goddess and reading about how this affected Maledicte was more interesting to me than how it affected Psyke. Maledicte is more memorable – it’s been over a year since I read it and I’ve found it has stuck in my memory as one of the more intriguing books I’ve read in the last couple of years in spite of a somewhat weak ending.

Nevertheless, Kings and Assassins is an entertaining fantasy novel that should appeal to fans of darker characters and political maneuvering.


Reviews of other books in this series:

by John Marco
400pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 6/10
Amazon Rating: 4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.85/5
Goodreads Rating: 2.86/5

Starfinder is the first book in the Skylords series, a YA fantasy/steampunk trilogy by John Marco. It was just released in hardcover on May 5. After looking through other peoples’ reviews it seems like everyone has already said the same things I was thinking as I read this one. But since I review everything I read I wanted to post my review anyway, though I don’t know how much it adds that is different from what has already been mentioned.

Moth, an orphan, is cared for by Leroux, a sickly former Eldrin Knight who tells crazy stories about the land beyond the Reach. On Moth’s thirteenth birthday, Leroux tells him he has a very special gift for him that he will tell him about after his party. That night Leroux reveals that Lady Esme, his pet kestrel, is not actually a bird at all but rather a woman from the land beyond the Reach who was transformed by the Skylords. Leroux loved Lady Esme and has unsuccessfully tried to find a way to turn her back. Now he tells Moth he must use his gift to do what Leroux could not – take Lady Esme to her homeland, find the wizard Merceron, and turn her back into a woman. Moth eventually agrees to get Leroux to stop ranting and raving but dismisses the information as yet another one of the elderly man’s tall tales.

In the morning, Leroux is dead, having finally succumbed to old age. Moth goes to visit a neighbor then comes home to find the apartment being ransacked by Rendor, the governor and a great inventor. Rendor leaves without finding what he is looking for, and Moth finds a place to hide out where he is found by Lady Esme, who brings him a strange device. Moth decides to go to the the land across the Reach and his closest friend Fiona, the fourteen year old daughter of Rendor, insists on accompanying him on his quest to free Esme.

Starfinder is a short, quick read containing lots of short paragraphs and dialogue. The writing did seem choppy at times with somewhat short sentences that didn’t flow together well, especially toward the beginning. As I got further into the book, I didn’t notice this quite as much, although the writing does remain more simplistic than the average young adult novel I’ve read.

The story moves at a good pace and is entertaining. The main characters do not have an overwhelming amount of depth but they did not seem completely shallow or lacking in individual personalities, either. The two main protagonists balance each other nicely – Moth is a dreamer and an optimist who wants nothing more than to fly while Fiona is hot-tempered and has a more pessimistic outlook on the world. The two children were the more believable characters in the book (and not just because some of the others were birds who used to be women). There were a couple of characters who had a change of heart or turned out to be different than they had initially seemed and I found the way they were handled rather unconvincing.

Starfinder combines steampunk with a more traditional fantasy setting. Calio, the city in which Moth and Fiona live, is on the cutting-edge of technology with the invention of the dragonfly and other flying machines. The land the two children end up in on their quest to rescue Lady Esme from her fate contains mermaids, centaurs, dragons, and of course the Skylords.

If I were a young adult, I believe I would have loved this novel. It’s still an enjoyable tale, but the combination of the overly simplified writing style and the feeling that it doesn’t stand out from other books read before may make it appeal to older readers less. Starfinder combines elements that will feel very familiar to someone who has read a lot of fantasy – the quest, a magical object that can only be used by one person, the mythical world thought not to exist is real, orphaned children play a large role in events in a fantasy world. There were some parts that reminded me of fantasy books in general and there was one section that immediately made me think of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass. However, I do think Starfinder would be a fantastic book for converting introducing younger readers to fantasy.

Starfinder is an entertaining adventure story reminiscent of many other fantasy stories. Its may not be as engaging to an adult reader due to its average characterization, very simple writing, and overly familiar plot elements, but it is a great book for a younger one.


Other Reviews:


I was hoping to get up a review of Starfinder, John Marco’s YA fantasy adventure that was released today, but after finishing work and then doing the grocery shopping, I was too tired. It is about halfway done so I am hoping to finish it tomorrow night (I usually end up working on reviews while waiting for Lost to come on). In the meantime, there is a very good interview with John Marco over at SciFiGuy – and a giveaway for a signed copy of the book.

Right now, I’m reading the new Lane Robins book, Kings and Assassins, that came out toward the end of last month. I really enjoyed her previous novel Maledicte and I’m also really enjoying this one. It’s definitely for people who like characters who aren’t always pleasant people, though.

Last week I visited Lane Robins’s blog and I discovered she actually had two books come out last month – she also wrote an urban fantasy under the name Lyn Benedict called Sins & Shadows. I hadn’t heard anything about that but ever since then I’ve been dying to read it, so I got a copy today and am planning to read it next.

After that, I plan to read Blackbringer by Laini Taylor, and then if I don’t chicken out I’ll attempt to read a book containing hard science fiction with my personal challenge book for this month, The Mote in God’s Eye. I’m hoping to have time to squeeze in Busted Flush, the second book in the new Wild Cards trilogy after that, but if not, I’ll read it sometime next month. (Last Argument of Kings will probably be one I review next month, too, since even though Best Served Cold isn’t a sequel I’d like to read that one first. And I desperately need to procure Santa Olivia, the new Jacqueline Carey book that is coming out the end of this month.)

So what are you reading/hoping to read soon?