A lot of books coming out next year are starting to make me excited about reading in 2014! This upcoming book by C.S. Friedman sounds pretty interesting, plus I really enjoyed both of her other books I’ve read (science fiction novel In Conquest Born and dark fantasy novel Feast of Souls).

Dreamwalker by C.S. Friedman

Dreamwalker, the first book in a new series, is scheduled for release in February 2014.

About Dreamwalker:

All her life Jessica Drake has dreamed of other worlds, some of them similar to her own, others disturbingly alien. She never shares the details with anyone, save her younger brother Tommy, a compulsive gamer who incorporates some aspects of Jessica’s dreams into his games. But now someone is asking about those dreams…and about her. A strange woman has been watching her house. A visitor to her school attempts to take possession of her dream-inspired artwork.

Why?

As she begins to search for answers it becomes clear that whoever is watching her does not want her to learn the truth. One night her house catches on fire, and when the smoke clears she discovers that her brother has been kidnapped. She must figure out what is going on, and quickly, if she and her family are to be safe.

Following clues left behind on Tommy’s computer, determined to find her brother and bring him home safely, Jessica and two of her friends are about to embark on a journey that will test their spirits and their courage to the breaking point, as they must leave their own world behind and confront the source of Earth’s darkest legends – as well as the terrifying truth of their own secret heritage.

Omens is the first book in the new Cainsville series by #1 New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong, best known for her Otherworld series. The second Cainsville book, titled Visions, is in progress.

Olivia Taylor-Jones, the daughter of the wealthy owner of a department store, recently received her master’s degree from Yale and does volunteer work in her spare time like her philanthropist mother. She is soon to be married to the CEO of a tech company who was voted one of Chicago’s most eligible bachelors three years in a row. However, her life falls apart when her identity is revealed: Eden Larsen, the daughter of the notorious serial killers Todd and Pamela Larsen.

Since Olivia’s parentage was only known by her deceased adoptive father, this news comes as a great shock to everyone—especially to Olivia, whose parents had never told her she was adopted as a toddler. The media constantly hounds her, her adoptive mother distances herself from Olivia after learning she’s related to criminals, and the only person who seems at all sympathetic toward her is her fiance James. Yet even he would like to postpone the wedding until things settle down, a desire Olivia suspects is connected to his recent decision to enter politics. Olivia breaks off the engagement and leaves, planning to find a job and a place to live, but these goals are hindered by the fact that everyone recognizes her as Eden Larsen and no one wants to hire the daughter of the infamous Larsens.

Olivia leaves Chicago entirely and relocates to the mysterious town Cainsville, where she rents a small apartment and gets a job as a waitress at a local diner. When her biological mother requests to see her, Olivia visits her in prison with the help of former lawyer to Pamela Larsen and former Cainsville resident Gabriel Walsh. Olivia enlists Gabriel’s aid in investigating the final murder said to have been committed by Pamela and Todd after Pamela requests that Olivia contact some organizations about appealing their case. She insists there is a reason she and Todd could not have killed the final two victims they were supposed to have killed. If it can be proven they are innocent of those murders, it’s possible they can be given a second chance to prove they are not responsible for the deaths they were convicted for.

My thoughts on Omens: Meh. The End.

That’s the review I was tempted to write, but I suppose I should attempt to explain why I felt that way about it even if reviews of books that do not leave much of an impression are the hardest reviews to write. Let’s start over and try this again…

While Omens contains some fantasy elements that I’m assuming will be explored more in later books in the series, it’s closer to a mystery/thriller/suspense novel than contemporary fantasy. The supernatural aspects are sprinkled in and are not nearly as important as the mystery plot. Unfortunately, this mystery plot, the writing, and the characters are all mediocre, and the additional lack of well-developed, interesting fantasy elements prevents Omens from being a memorable book. Since it is simply written and repetitive, it’s an easy book to read quickly, but there were times I found it dull, especially toward the beginning, and it never became any better than mildly entertaining.

Part of the reason Omens didn’t particularly excite me is personal: I’m not a big fan of mysteries by themselves and this novel is largely focused on investigating a murder mystery. However, I also thought Omens failed to succeed at much of what it appeared to be trying to do. I got the impression that Cainsville, the town Olivia moves to after the discovery about her biological parents, was supposed to be very mysterious with the hints of its history, gargoyles that protect the town from the plague, and residents who have a touch of supernatural ability. Plus Olivia’s flight to Cainsville is orchestrated, and someone really wants her there for some reason as we’re told from one of several short interludes told from the perspective of various characters other than Olivia. These sections also seemed to be trying to get me to wonder at the mysteriousness of it all, but I just found them clumsy since they both did more telling than showing and didn’t add much to the story or say much that was new.

Yet despite the great pains I felt were being taken to make me want to know more about Cainsville, I didn’t care about what was going on or find it particularly compelling. Too little information was given to pique my interest, especially since what was given was vague and generic. Thoughts by a minor character on Olivia and Eden as names and which fit her better? I don’t care. A section that confirms what was already quite obvious that someone was more than they appeared? Unnecessary. Olivia’s budding ability to see visions that went with various superstitions that could be interpreted as omens? A little creative, at least, but still pretty similar to being a seer, especially since she never used this in a way that was particularly unusual. Of course, she’s still learning about this, but her abilities were never utilized in a way that made me want to see what she could really do.

In general, the writing is quite dull, especially since the aforementioned attempts at adding suspense just added to the length of the book. Telling instead of showing is a big problem that extends into Olivia’s main narrative as well. Much of the book is Olivia’s thoughts or dialogue, and there’s not much to keep one guessing about what might be meant by what is shown since it’s all spelled out repeatedly. Furthermore, being in Olivia’s head is boring since she just spills all her thoughts onto the page without having much personality or a unique narrative voice.

The fact that Olivia did simply narrate her story without coming alive as an individual kept her from being an engaging character. She could have been an intriguing figure since she did prove to be independent and capable. Even though she came from a wealthy family and never wanted for anything in her life, she was able to take care of herself. She had no problem with going out and getting a job and a shabby apartment if it’s what she needed to do. I also thought her decision to go out on her own made sense. While Olivia had money and a handsome rich fiance, she also didn’t seem entirely happy. Her relationship with her adoptive mother is somewhat strained, and it’s quite obvious that she is struggling since her adoptive father, whom she was close to, died. Olivia also seems to feel a bit trapped since she does want to continue her education and have a career instead of following in her mother’s footsteps, and she also seems rather dismayed by the recent news that her fiance has plans to go into politics. With the cold reaction she received from her mother and her fiance’s wish to postpone the wedding after discovering her identity, I think it makes sense that she’d try to get away for a bit.

After Olivia, the most prominent character was Gabriel, the ruthless lawyer who helped her with the case. As with everything else in this novel, I felt like the book was trying to convince me he was more interesting than he actually was. He rose to a prominent position on his own, has a mysterious past, and may have some humanity hidden under that cold exterior. I suspect he and Olivia will fall in love, but there’s no sparkling dialogue between them that makes me care if they do.

Omens was a mediocre book that failed to live up to its potential. At times, it managed to be entertaining and though I have criticisms I didn’t despise it, but it was ultimately not at all special or unique since it had bland characters, writing, and fantasy elements. Cainsville is not a series I plan to continue.

My Rating: 5/10

Where I got my reading copy: Review copy from a publicist.

Read an Excerpt from Omens

Other Reviews:

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This week brought two books, a steampunk and an urban fantasy that I’ve been hearing great things about!

For book reviews, I’m currently writing one of Omens by Kelley Armstrong. It’s not nearly as glowing as the last few reviews I’ve written (Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear, Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews, and The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord).

On to the books!

Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett

Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett

This steampunk novel, the first book in a new series, will be released on September 10 (trade paperback, ebook). An excerpt from the beginning of Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl can be read on Tor.com, as well as a short story about Gideon Smith titled “Work Sets You Free” and a series-related novelette titled “Business as Usual.”

 

Nineteenth century London is the center of a vast British Empire. Airships ply the skies and Queen Victoria presides over three-quarters of the known world—including the East Coast of America, following the failed revolution of 1775.

London might as well be a world away from Sandsend, a tiny village on the Yorkshire coast. Gideon Smith dreams of the adventure promised him by the lurid tales of Captain Lucian Trigger, the Hero of the Empire, told in Gideon’s favorite “penny dreadful.” When Gideon’s father is lost at sea in highly mysterious circumstances Gideon is convinced that supernatural forces are at work. Deciding only Captain Lucian Trigger himself can aid him, Gideon sets off for London. On the way he rescues the mysterious mechanical girl Maria from a tumbledown house of shadows and iniquities. Together they make for London, where Gideon finally meets Captain Trigger.

But Trigger is little more than an aging fraud, providing cover for the covert activities of his lover, Dr. John Reed, a privateer and sometime agent of the British Crown. Looking for heroes but finding only frauds and crooks, it falls to Gideon to step up to the plate and attempt to save the day…but can a humble fisherman really become the true Hero of the Empire?

David Barnett’s Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl is a fantastical steampunk fable set against an alternate historical backdrop: the ultimate Victoriana/steampunk mash-up!

Happy Hour in Hell by Tad Williams

Happy Hour in Hell (Bobby Dollar #2) by Tad Williams

Happy Hour in Hell was just released on September 3 (hardcover, ebook). It follows The Dirty Streets of Heaven, which is now available in hardcover, ebook, and mass market paperback. The beginning of Happy Hour in Hell can be read on the publisher’s website (and if you missed the first book, an excerpt from The Dirty Streets of Heaven is also available).

A third book in the series, Sleeping Late on Judgement Day, is forthcoming.

 

I’ve been told to go to Hell more times than I can count. But this time I’m actually going.

My name’s Bobby Dollar, sometimes known as Doloriel, and of course, Hell isn’t a great place for someone like me – I’m an angel. They don’t like my kind down there, not even the slightly fallen variety. But they have my girlfriend, who happens to be a beautiful demon named Casimira, Countess of Cold Hands. Why does an angel have a demon girlfriend? Well, certainly not because it helps my career.

She’s being held hostage by one of the nastiest, most powerful demons in all of the netherworld – Eligor, Grand Duke of Hell. He already hates me, and he’d like nothing better than to get his hands on me and rip my immortal soul right out of my borrowed but oh-so-mortal body.

But wait, it gets better! Not only do I have to sneak into Hell, make my way across thousands of miles of terror and suffering to reach Pandemonium, capital of the fiery depths, but then I have to steal Caz right out from under Eligor’s burning eyes and smuggle her out again, past demon soldiers, hellhounds, and all the murderous creatures imprisoned there for eternity. And even if I somehow manage to escape Hell, I’m also being stalked by an undead psychopath named Smyler who’s been following me for weeks. Oh, and did I mention that he can’t be killed?

So if I somehow survive Hell, elude the Grand Duke and all his hideous minions and make it back to the real world, I’ll still be the most hunted soul in Creation. But at least I’ll have Caz. Gotta have something to look forward to, right?

So just pour me that damn drink, will you? I’ve got somewhere to go.

Shattered Pillars is the second book in the Eternal Sky trilogy, following the phenomenal Range of Ghosts. The final book in the trilogy, Steles of the Sky, is scheduled for release in April 2014 (and the gorgeous cover was revealed not too long ago).

Since this review covers the second book in a series, it will contain spoilers for the first book. If you are curious about Eternal Sky but do not want to start with a review of the middle volume, here is my review of Range of Ghosts. I don’t have much to say about the second book that I didn’t say about the first anyway—I loved everything about it and think it’s an incredibly well-written and executed fantasy novel, certainly among the best I’ve ever read.

In Range of Ghosts, the ruling Khagan and his heir were both killed, leaving Temur as the successor. However, Temur’s uncle Qori Buqa would be Khagan and would like to remove Temur as an obstacle. When Temur became close to a young woman, Edene, Qori Buqa had her captured by the Nameless and their blood ghosts. Temur sought to rescue her from her captivity and eventually met and joined forces with Samarkar, a former princess who gave up this role in order to become a wizard. Shattered Pillars continues the story of their attempts to gain recognition for Temur as Khagan and their journey to rescue Edene from al-Sepehr’s fortress—and expands to show the influence of al-Sepehr and his plots, as well as Edene’s own journey after her successful escape from her captor at the end of the first book.

When I read my very first book written by Elizabeth Bear, I was enchanted by her elegant prose and smart, subtle storytelling, and I knew I had discovered something special. As I’ve read more of her writing, I’ve only grown more impressed, especially since her books keep getting better and better. Her Edda of Burdens trilogy, completed a couple of years ago, contained my favorite of her books, but now that I’ve read the first two Eternal Sky books I’m quite confident this trilogy will surpass it. It’s cemented my opinion that Elizabeth Bear is one of the very best speculative fiction authors writing at the moment. Certainly, she’s the best I’ve read in terms of consistently writing high quality fiction—and Shattered Pillars is now my favorite of her books.

Shattered Pillars is a middle book with some of the key characteristics of the second book in a trilogy. It does seem to have a lot of setup with some major events in the final chapter leading up to an exciting finale. Despite this, I hardly noticed that this was the case since I actually enjoyed reading it even more than the first book. It has a lot of different point of view characters, especially considering it’s not a massive doorstopper of a fantasy book at a mere 333 pages, but they all add to the story. I felt like I got a better sense of both the world cultures and the different characters and their motivations than in the first book because of all the different perspectives. It had the perfect amount of detail, enough to effortlessly picture the scenes but not enough to bog down the novel.

One of the reasons I loved this book so much despite the fact that there was not much progression toward a plot resolution is that it had more of the same excellent qualities of the first book—more gorgeous prose, more depth of culture and amazing world mythology, and more characterization. It also had an occasional bit of humor that I don’t remember being in the first book (but it’s been awhile since I read the first book so it’s entirely possible I just don’t remember those moments!).

The characters are all wonderfully written. Samarkar was my favorite in the first book, and I grew to admire her character even more in Shattered Pillars. I just love how politically savvy, intelligent, and practical she is. In Range of Ghosts, Samarkar makes the sacrifice that is required to become a wizard even though it is a great risk. She could have died, and even if she survived, there was no guarantee her sacrifice would gain her power. Many wizards do not, but Samarkar is one of the fortunate who does, though she is told she is not extraordinarily powerful. Yet she can inspire awe in others due to her ability to think quickly: her wit is where her true power lies. Her magic is not hand-waving and chanting the correct words but using real-world knowledge to solve problems.

The contrast between Samarkar and Temur’s characters due to their pasts is very well-done, and I think it’s rare that an author manages to capture how characters are shaped by their pasts so naturally. Samarkar was born before her brothers and was raised as a princess, and she is more knowledgeable about politics, more practical, and more confident. Temur seems less sure of himself and more naive. He is both younger than Samarkar and a second son, one it was assumed would serve his brother the Khagan rather than be Khagan himself, and he appears to be less experienced due to this. These show in their actions, but it also doesn’t beat readers over the head with all the contributing factors due to the two characters respective upbringings.

In addition, I love how capable the women in these books are. Samarkar has saved Temur numerous times, even though he is not defenseless or incapable. When Samarkar points out Temur should listen to her because she saved his life once, he laughs at this remark because she has saved him far more than once. In one memorable scene, a character asks to be clothed like a queen, and it’s assumed she means silks and satins. Her response is that she means armor and flame. She is one who acts, one who is in the position to be dressed like a queen because she put herself in that position—and dressing like a queen does not mean looking elegant but being ready for action.

Samarkar and Temur are certainly my favorite characters, but they are far from the only well-written characters. I also enjoyed learning more about Hrahima and Brother Hsiung’s pasts, and I really appreciated that I could sympathize with Saadet, even though she is an enemy of Temur and Samarkar. To my surprise, I even found myself warming up to Qori Buqa, the cause of so many of Temur’s problems, in a scene where he just seemed like an ordinary man who liked to hunt and had affection for his horse. Even Bansh, Temur’s horse, is a well-developed character (and the most useful horse to have around when one is in a tight spot!).

There’s much to praise about Shattered Pillars, and I loved everything about it. The world is definitely fantasy, but it’s also realistic with its different cultures and factions. It has amazing characters, gorgeous writing, a touch of horror with a creepy plague, occasional humor, subtlety, and poise. If the final book in this trilogy is even close to the quality of the first two, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Eternal Sky became a fantasy classic.

My Rating: 10/10

Where I got my reading copy: Review copy from the publisher.

Read an Excerpt from Shattered Pillars

Other Reviews:

Books of 2013 is a feature for highlighting books coming out this year that sound interesting. Today’s featured book is the upcoming anthology Once Upon a Time: New Fairy Tales edited by Paula Guran.

Once Upon a Time: New Fairy Tales edited by Paula Guran

I actually hadn’t heard anything about this book until I got one of those emails from Amazon trying to get me to buy something. Normally I disregard those emails, but this time I looked at it because the subject “New from Tanith Lee” caught my eye. I hadn’t heard anything about a new book by her so I was curious and opened the email to see what it was about. While the book isn’t actually written by Tanith Lee, it contains one of her short stories, and I was immediately intrigued by it. I LOVE retold fairy tales, plus this book contains short stories by both authors whose work I’ve been wanting to read and some authors who have written books I really enjoyed (such as Cinda Williams Chima, Ekaterina Sedia, and Jane Yolen).

Once Upon a Time: New Fairy Tales will be available in October.

About Once Upon a Time: New Fairy Tales:

Eighteen extraordinary authors devise all-new fairy tales: imaginative reinterpretations of the familiar, evocative new myths, speculations beyond the traditional realm of “once upon a time.” Often dark, occasionally humorous, always enthralling, these stories find a certain Puss in a near-future New York, an empress bargaining with a dragon, a princess turned into a raven, a king’s dancing daughters with powerful secrets, great heroism, terrible villainy, sparks of mischief, and a great deal more. Brilliant dreams and dazzling nightmares with meaning for today and tomorrow…

“The Giant In Repose” by Nathan Ballingrud
“Eat Me, Drink Me, Love Me” by Christopher Barzak
“Tales That Fairies Tell” by Richard Bowes
“Warrior Dreams” by Cinda Williams Chima
“Blanchefleur” by Theodora Goss
“The Road of Needles” by Caitlín R. Kiernan
“Below the Sun Beneath” by Tanith Lee
“The Coin of Heart’s Desire” by Yoon Ha Lee
“Sleeping Beauty of Elista” by Ekaterina Sedia
“Egg” by Priya Sharma
“Lupine” by Nisi Shawl
“Castle of Masks” by Cory Skerry
“Flight” by Angela Slatter
“The Lenten Rose” by Genevieve Valentine
“The Hush of Feathers, the Clamour of Wings” by A.C. Wise
“Born and Bread” by Kaaron Warren
“The Mirror Tells All” by Erzebet YellowBoy
“The Spinning Wheel’s Tale” by Jane Yolen

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This week’s pile is much more manageable than last with three books that showed up. One of these was already covered as an ARC, but here’s the basic details with a link to more in case it’s one you missed and might be curious about:

Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach

Fortune’s Pawn (Paradox #1) by Rachel Bach

This is the first book in a new science fiction series written by Rachel Aaron, author of the Legend of Eli Monpress books. Fortune’s Pawn will be released in trade paperback and ebook in November. Book two, Honor’s Knight, is scheduled for release in February 2014.

 

Devi Morris isn’t your average mercenary. She has plans. Big ones. And a ton of ambition. It’s a combination that’s going to get her killed one day – but not just yet.

That is, until she just gets a job on a tiny trade ship with a nasty reputation for surprises. The Glorious Fool isn’t misnamed: it likes to get into trouble, so much so that one year of security work under its captain is equal to five years everywhere else. With odds like that, Devi knows she’s found the perfect way to get the jump on the next part of her Plan. But the Fool doesn’t give up its secrets without a fight, and one year on this ship might be more than even Devi can handle.

The Grim Company by Luke Scull

The Grim Company (Grim Company #1) by Luke Scull

This first book in a new fantasy series has already been released in the UK, and it will be available in the US on September 3 (hardcover, ebook). An excerpt from The Grim Company can be read on Tor.com.

 

The Gods are dead. The Magelord Salazar and his magically enhanced troops, the Augmentors, crush any dissent they find in the minds of the populace. On the other side of the Broken Sea, the White Lady plots the liberation of Dorminia, with her spymistresses, the Pale Women. Demons and abominations plague the Highlands.

The world is desperately in need of heroes. But what they get instead are a ragtag band of old warriors, a crippled Halfmage, two orphans and an oddly capable manservant: the Grim Company.