No Peace for the Damned
by Megan Powell
254pp (Paperbook/Ebook)
My Rating: 1/10
Amazon Rating: 3.6/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.17/5
 

No Peace for the Damned is an urban fantasy debut by Megan Powell. It was just released in trade paperback, ebook, and audio book this week. The second book in The Damned series, No Rest for the Damned, will be released later this year.

Ever since she was a little girl, Magnolia Kelch has been tortured and experimented on by her powerful father. All she has ever wanted is to escape from the clutches of her supernatural family and one day she manages to do just that. She is quickly found by Thirteen, an important member of the Network. The Network is an organization devoted to learning about the Kelch family and how to fight them.

While Thirteen convinces Magnolia to meet with his group in the Network and teach them what she knows, they both know it is going to be difficult for his team to get past their prejudices against the supernatural and work with a Kelch. Given Magnolia’s abilities and the pure lust one feels at the sight of her, it certainly is difficult for some team members to trust and accept her. It’s also difficult for Magnolia, who has never been able to trust anyone, to learn to work as part of a team. It’s even more difficult for her to deal with at the same time she finds herself developing an instant attraction and bond with Theo, one of the team members. To make matters worse, her powers also seem to be undergoing some changes and she finds herself dealing with some unfamiliar situations. Will Magnolia be able to learn to control herself and work with a team – and manage not to fall into her family’s control once again?

Most books contain a mixture of good and bad elements with the overall book weighing more toward one side or the other (or possibly falling right in the middle to create an overall reaction of ‘meh’). On very rare occasions there are books that one has no complaints at all about and sometimes there are books one has no praise for. Unfortunately, No Peace for the Damned falls into the latter category for me. I really don’t enjoy writing completely negative reviews and have been struggling to think of something I liked about it.  The best I can come up with is that the premise was interesting enough that I wanted to read it in the first place – but that’s about where the appeal ended for me.

No Peace for the Damned piqued my curiosity since it is described as a dark urban fantasy, and I was also interested to see it had a heroine with supernatural powers without any mention of vampires, werewolves, zombies, angels, or any of the common urban fantasy beings. It was also intriguing to me that the heroine worked for an organization working against her own family. This seemed like it could create some interesting dilemmas, although it turned out it did not – not that I’m actually complaining about that because it made perfect sense that it did not. Magnolia’s family was so horrible there’s no reason she should have had any loyalty whatsoever toward them or any conflicted feelings about helping the enemy because of her family. (That’s not to say she had no conflicted feelings since she did about other things like giving people knowledge that could work against her, just not concerning her family.) I do think that this book had an interesting premise, but unfortunately it really faltered in its execution.

The one aspect of the novel I thought had the most potential were the glimpses into Magnolia’s family, both their powers and their backstory. Throughout the story Magnolia reveals more about her family’s individual powers, her power-hungry grandmother who started them all on the path toward evil, and exactly how her family treated her. The scenes regarding her torture could make some very uncomfortable since her father did horrible things to her. However, the story of Magnolia’s family was not nearly enough of this to save the book, especially since it was mostly clumsily told and disappointing. Most of what we learn about Magnolia’s family comes out in flashbacks and what we do see of them makes them appear to be a purely evil family with no depth.

For the most part, Magnolia is a dull, flat character. She does have some interesting struggles since we get to see the learning process she goes through as she learns to trust someone and what it’s like to be cared for – and to learn to care about someone in return. I do appreciate that we see a lot of this through her relationship with Thirteen, who is a friend, mentor, and father figure to Magnolia. Magnolia also struggles with acceptance since she knows others will not want to work with her just because she has the Kelch family name, and she also faces some changes to her powers that she doesn’t understand.

However, I couldn’t really like Magnolia or find her interesting despite the obstacles she was facing. Her narrative voice is lacking in personality other than the occasional attitude, but it’s not even entertaining or humorous attitude. She makes boring snarky comments that are generic and completely lacking in originality. She uses a lot of phrases that make her sound like a stereotypical teen despite the fact that she was in her twenties. Since she has been sheltered and isolated for her entire life, it makes sense that she would seem younger than she actually is. However, it really bothered me because of just how immature she sounded at times.

In addition to not being particularly vibrant as a character, Magnolia is a very cliched character. She has so many superpowers that she’d be perfect if not for her personality. It’s apparent early in the book that she can read minds and heal herself, but by the end it’s also clear that:

The mere sight of her is enough to inspire lust in nearly everyone who sees her. All it takes is one look and some people end up in a stupor, and many of the people who do hate her are unpleasant toward her because they want her and know they can’t have her.

Furthermore, the developing relationship in this story was based on an instant magnetic attraction between Magnolia and Theo, another member of the Network. When I read a book with a romance, I think the fun part is seeing what personality traits attract them to each other and watching the natural progression of the relationship as the two fall for each other. To skip right over this with magical attraction seems like such the lazy, dull way of writing a relationship to me. In this particular case, the bond between Magnolia and Theo is used as a convenient plot device – amor ex machina comes to the rescue for each of them over the course of the story. To be fair, I wouldn’t quite call it insta-love just because while there is some sort of attraction and bond, neither Magnolia nor Theo seem to think they’re in LOVE with each other.

No Peace for the Damned did not work for me at all – the writing style, dialogue, characters, and story all grated on me, plus it was full of dreaded tropes like the woman wanted by all and insta-lust (complete with a mysterious magical bond!). It had a potentially interesting thread in the family history and their supernatural powers, but it wasn’t executed well enough to carry the rest of the story. Some may find this a quick, diverting read, but it was not to my taste at all and I cannot personally recommend it.

My Rating: 1/10

Where I got my reading copy: I got an ARC when I met with the publicist to discuss their books at BEA.

Read an Excerpt

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. 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 2 review copies (well, technically 3 but 2 of these were the same exact book).

The Coldest War by Ian Tregillis

The Coldest War (Milkweed Triptych #2) by Ian Tregillis

This sequel to Bitter Seeds will be released on July 17 (hardcover and ebook). An excerpt from The Coldest War is available.

I still haven’t read the first volume in this series, but I may give it a try at some point since I have heard it’s really good.

In Ian Tregillis’ The Coldest War, a precarious balance of power maintains the peace between Britain and the USSR. For decades, Britain’s warlocks have been all that stands between the British Empire and the Soviet Union—a vast domain stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the shores of the English Channel. Now each wizard’s death is another blow to Britain’s national security.

Meanwhile, a brother and sister escape from a top-secret facility deep behind the Iron Curtain. Once subjects of a twisted Nazi experiment to imbue ordinary people with superhuman abilities, then prisoners of war in the immense Soviet research effort to reverse-engineer the Nazi technology, they head for England. 

Because that’s where former spy Raybould Marsh lives. And Gretel, the mad seer, has plans for him.

As Marsh is once again drawn into the world of Milkweed, he discovers that Britain’s darkest acts didn’t end with the war. And while he strives to protect queen and country, he is forced to confront his own willingness to accept victory at any cost.

Albert of Adelaide by Howard L. Anderson

Albert of Adelaide by Howard L. Anderson

This debut novel will be released on July 10 (ebook and hardcover). I’m not quite sure what to think about a fantasy novel about a duck-billed platypus, but I may give it a try at some point since it’s supposed to be rather good. Publisher’s Weekly included it on their Best Summer Books of 2012 list, CNN.com included it on their summer reading list, and Mary Doria Russell (author of The Sparrow) recommends it.

At once an old-fashioned-buddy-novel-shoot-’em-up and a work of deliciously imagined fantasy, Howard L. Anderson’s dazzling debut presents the haunting story of a world where something has gone horribly awry . . .

Having escaped from Australia’s Adelaide Zoo, an orphaned platypus named Albert embarks on a journey through the outback in search of “Old Australia,” a rumored land of liberty, promise, and peace. What he will find there, however, away from the safe confinement of his enclosure for the first time since his earliest memories, proves to be a good deal more than he anticipated.

Alone in the outback, with an empty soft drink bottle as his sole possession, Albert stumbles upon pyromaniacal wombat Jack, and together they spend a night drinking and gambling in Ponsby Station, a rough-and-tumble mining town. Accused of burning down the local mercantile, the duo flees into menacing dingo territory and quickly go their separate ways-Albert to pursue his destiny in the wastelands, Jack to reconcile his past.

Encountering a motley assortment of characters along the way-a pair of invariably drunk bandicoots, a militia of kangaroos, hordes of the mercurial dingoes, and a former prize-fighting Tasmanian devil-our unlikely hero will discover a strength and skill for survival he never suspected he possessed.

Told with equal parts wit and compassion, ALBERT OF ADELAIDE shows how it is often the unexpected route, and the most improbable companions, that lead us on the path to who we really are. Who you journey with, after all, is far more important than wherever it is you are going.

Today I am pleased to have a brief interview with fantasy author K. J. Parker, whose books include the Engineer trilogy, The Folding Knife, and The Hammer. Sharps, K. J. Parker’s newest book, is out this week. Since I really enjoyed The Folding Knife, I was excited to have the opportunity to read Sharps a little early and ask the author a few questions about it. I also enjoyed Sharps because of the intelligent themes and well-written conversations and dialogue touched by a rather dark sense of humor (my review). Hope you enjoy the interview!

Sharps by K. J. Parker

Fantasy Cafe: Sharps is set in a world other than our own but does not have a lot of typical fantasy elements or magic. The same can be said for the other book of yours I have read, The Folding Knife. What draws you to writing these types of books and why do you choose to create your own world rather than writing historical fiction?

K. J. Parker: If you write historical fiction, you’re horribly constrained by what actually happened. I’m not sure I could handle that; I’d want the Teutonic Knights to make mincemeat of Alexander Nevski and the Zulus to win at Ulundi, because the consequences would be so much more interesting to write about. I guess what I write is a sort of synthetic history; fiction made with history, the same way supermarket own-brand sausages are made with meat; just enough to make it taste right. I borrow heavily from history – names, aspects of cultures and civilizations, incidents from the lives of real people – but I need to be in control of the story, the driver rather than a passenger.

FC: One thing that really impressed me about Sharps was the realistic setting with its cultures, politics, and religions. It’s definitely not the same as our world, yet it’s also not completely unfamiliar or difficult to grasp. How do you approach creating cultures, politics, and religions? What fundamental principles that you’ve observed do you keep in mind when developing these?

KJP: There are two ways of doing fantasy; the WETA Workshops technique, or CGI. The CGI approach means you can have dragons, elves, any effect you want so long as it’s amazing to look at. The WETA Workshops approach, as exemplified in Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings, is to have each prop, each cup, shoe, sword, stirrup-iron, handmade by craftsmen. The average movie-goer probably doesn’t consciously notice the stitching on the shoe or the way the light plays on the glaze of the hand-thrown plate; the effect is mostly subliminal, but it builds up to give an impression of authenticity, which in turn engenders belief, which is what the creator of fantasy would sell her grandmother to the dogmeat company to obtain. You don’t get belief with the CGI approach, which appeals to the imagination but has difficulty in getting the audience to sympathise and empathise with the characters. I guess it’s a question of what you want to achieve. In my case, give me D W Griffiths over Batman Returns any day.

FC: You have quite a few books published, including both stand alone books and series. Where do you recommend readers new to your work begin?

KJP: On the strict understanding that you’ll go back and buy the earlier ones (buy them; you don’t have to read them), start with the Engineer trilogy and then follow on chronologically.

Read more interviews with K. J. Parker:

Read an Excerpt from Sharps

Sharps is the latest book by K. J. Parker, who has written a great number of fantasy books including the Engineer trilogy and The Folding Knife. This is a stand alone book so you can read it even if you have never read a book by K. J. Parker before.

Since Sharps is a book with some mystery surrounding it that is best read without knowing too much about the plot, I’m going to keep this one short. As can be gleaned from the title and cover, it is a book in which sword-fighting plays an important role. Four men and one woman from Scheria are either blackmailed or bought into joining a fencing team that travels to Permia, a neighboring country. Permia and Scheria haven’t always been on the best of terms, but the Scherians would like to make an effort to endear themselves to the people. Can these five survive without causing a diplomatic incident?

When it comes to reviewing a book, I quite often mentally argue with myself between two things – how much I feel I should have liked it and how much I actually liked it. Sometimes there is a part of me that thinks a book is wonderful yet I don’t quite connect with it. Other times I enjoy a book immensely yet feel like maybe I shouldn’t have liked it as much as I did. At times, I reread a book when reviewing and change my mind completely about my initial impressions.

Sharps is one of those books I’m having trouble reviewing for those reasons. While I was reading it, I was carried along by the witty dialogue and writing, although toward the end I did find my enthusiasm waning a bit from where it once was. There are some intelligent, sharp observations in this book that I really appreciated and enjoyed reading. Yet, after reflecting on it and rereading a bit of it, I’m finding I think it relied too much on dialogue and observation and did not spend enough time on plot or characterization to be truly phenomenal.

What impressed me the most about Sharps was the intelligent writing, conversations, and dialogue that are touched by a rather dark sense of humor. The way it was written at times made me laugh, and I found some of the situations characters got themselves into and how these scenes were written quite entertaining. There were some great themes about history and some of the statements that came up about human nature throughout the story were quite interesting. Parker has a definite gift for writing darkly humorous scenes and conversations that keeps this book very readable.

Another aspect of Sharps I enjoyed was the world, which is pseudo-historical. It’s certainly a made-up setting, but there are no fantastical elements to be seen making it almost seem more like historical fiction even though it is not. I love reading about magic, but sometimes it is nice to take a break from it and get lost in a world with its own unique cultures that still seems familiar in a lot of ways. Although it has its own cultures, religions, food, and arts that flesh it out as a place separate from earth, there’s no exposition necessary to understand the basics of how the world works. It has its own cultural differences and political clashes, but they’re pretty straightforward. The world has its own unique aspects without seeming completely unfamiliar and alien. Sometimes it’s a nice change of pace to read fantasy where magic isn’t a means of power and characters have to survive based on their wits and abilities just like everyone else.

When it comes to the plot, I have very mixed feelings. On the one hand, it did keep me interested for the most part and it had a sort of mystery that made me curious about the outcome. On the other hand, there were quite a few times when I felt like not much had actually happened considering the number of pages I’d read. For awhile, the dialogue and writing were enough to make me look past this, but there were times when I wanted more to actually happen. There is a lot of traveling and talking with a few fencing matches here and there, and there were some interesting developments toward the end, although I did find the answer to which person was involved rather predictable, even if not the overall result.

While I often enjoy books that have a lot of dialogue and conversations between characters, I do want to see it contributing to plot advancement or fleshing out the characters. In this particular case, I ended up feeling like the characters had more style over substance. They said things that sounded good and served as sharp-witted foils for each other, but they seemed more like conduits for the dialogue than real, three-dimensional people with distinct personalities. The characters seemed to exist to serve the story instead of being a natural part of it. That’s not to say I minded the darkness or the ruthlessness of many of the characters; I just would have preferred to know more about them as people than I did. It’s obvious it had to be this way to an extent for this book to work, given that there was a bit of a mystery involving one of the main characters and each had his or her own perspective. Yet there wasn’t quite enough of a human element for me personally with this distance.

In addition, there were a lot of character perspectives and a few of the transitions felt clunky. Some of that may be due in part to the fact that I did not read a finished copy since there was one spot where it really suddenly changed perspectives two paragraphs down in the same section. However, there were a lot of somewhat short sections dedicated to one character before switching to another. While I enjoyed getting the different perspectives, I also thought it switched too quickly between them at times and this could get tedious.

From all this, it probably sounds like I didn’t like Sharps, but it’s really more of a case of it didn’t amaze me or live up to my expectations. Considering I really enjoyed K. J. Parker’s The Folding Knife, I had high hopes for this one. However, it’s been a couple of weeks since I read Sharps now and what I’ve found is that it’s less memorable than I originally thought when I read it. While it was an entertaining story with some fantastic dialogue and humor, the story or characterization that would have set it apart as something special for me were buried under all the cleverness.

My Rating: 7/10

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

Read an Excerpt

Other Reviews of Sharps:

I’ve been debating whether or not to do one of these posts since I haven’t read as many books as this point in the year as I normally have. After thinking about it, I decided to just do a condensed version containing the two books that I think stand out from all the rest, plus one honorable mention.

The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin

My #1 spot belongs to The Killing Moon, the first book in The Dreamblood duology by N. K. Jemisin. The writing, worldbuilding, story, and characters were all excellent, and it’s my favorite of N. K. Jemisin’s books so far. (Review)

Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

The #2 spot goes to Range of Ghosts, the first book in the Eternal Sky trilogy by Elizabeth Bear. While the writing styles are very different, this novel and The Killing Moon actually remind me a little bit of each other, mostly in that they have very vivid world-building and are set in a non-European fantasy world. (Review)

Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire

Honorable mention goes to Discount Armageddon, the first InCryptid book by Seanan McGuire. This is great fun and might end up being urban fantasy series #4 that I must keep up with. (Review)

These books are all by authors I already loved so one thing I’ve been trying to do lately is find more books by new-to-me authors to enjoy. Not that I haven’t found any at all this year since I discovered a couple of books published before this year by new-to-me authors I liked (Dragon Sword and Wind Child by Noriko Ogiwara, which is my favorite book not published this year, and Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal). Yet I haven’t had a lot of luck with discovering new to me authors this year, even though I’ve been trying to lately. In a pile of books by new-to-me authors I still need to write about I have one I thought wasn’t bad but wasn’t really all that great, one I didn’t like, and one I couldn’t finish. So I am hoping by the year’s end I’ll have some more books on the list by authors I wasn’t already a fan of! (I also need to read more science fiction. I’ve only read one SF book this year.)

What are your favorite books you’ve read so far this year?

 

Range of Ghosts is the first book in Eternal Sky, an epic fantasy trilogy by Elizabeth Bear. It was just released a couple of months ago in both hardcover and ebook. The next book, Shattered Pillars, is scheduled for release in March 2013.

After the death of the ruling Khagan, a bloody battle for succession has been reduced to two main contenders: the former Khagan’s brother Qori Buqa and Temur, a nephew who inherited his claim to the throne when Qori Buqa killed his brother. Following a battle he barely survives, Temur is woken by a horse he names Bansh and rides south to hide among clans where he will be safer from his uncle’s assassins. Though he manages to blend in with the clans, he and his uncle both know that the other survives since their moons still show in the Eternal Sky, so the hunt continues. Eventually, Temur’s camp is attacked and a young woman he has befriended, Edene, is captured.  Temur determines to get her back and leaves the very next day to try to find her.

In the meantime, the Once-Princess Samarkar of Rasan is undergoing the arduous process of becoming a wizard. In order to even have a chance of gaining magic, she had her ability to have children surgically removed. It is a dangerous procedure for a woman, and there is no guarantee that there will be results even if she manages to survive it. Regardless, even if it is unsuccessful, she will join the wizard caste and leave her life as a princess behind forever. While this lowers her chance of getting involved in the kind of succession battle that threatens Temur’s life, it significantly raises the chance of nasty encounters with undead cults.

Range of Ghosts was one of my most anticipated books of 2012. For one, Elizabeth Bear is one of my favorite authors because of her lovely writing and intelligently crafted stories full of myth and wonder. Also, the way she described it in an interview I did with her in 2011 made me desperately want to read it. It did not disappoint, and I actually think Range of Ghosts is even a little better than my previous favorite book by Elizabeth Bear, The Sea Thy Mistress.

Range of Ghosts is an immersive fantasy book, one that so vividly portrays the world and characters that they come to life. I love that life here is not sugar-coated and shows the harsh reality of those vying for and trying to preserve power. From the opening scene with Temur struggling to keep himself going after the battle in which his brother was killed, Bear’s characters learn that glory is not as common as mud and blood. Similarly, Samarkar’s first appearance evoked the same sort of emotions as it showed the lengths she went to for even the chance to gain magic. The risks she took, both in body and in the life she will now have to live, are heartbreaking:

 

She had chosen to trade barrenness and the risk of death for the chance of strength. Real strength, her own. Not the mirror-caught power her father, his widow, her half brothers, or her dead husband might have happened to shine her way.

It seemed but a small sacrifice. [pp. 38]

Range of Ghosts is set in a world packed with myth and history, but unlike many doorstopper fantasy books Bear’s skill allows her to create this world in a short, beautifully written tale. I loved how Samarkar and Temur both came from distinct cultures with palpably different histories, yet their stories still manage to mirror each other and create interesting parallels. Rasan’s princesses were not helpless but sturdy and determined, doing what they have to do to survive without complaining. They were not spoiled royalty, and Temur’s history has taught him to respect such powerful individuals.

The princesses, like many of the people in this story, had prescribed roles within their culture. But one thing that I consistently see in Bear’s books is that the characters are not defined only by those roles. Nor are they are defined by a single overriding characteristic, but it is clear that they all have a purpose and will that goes beyond the lot they are handed. Samarkar is shown with a bit of a ruthless streak, and Temur is filled with grief, but neither of them are limited to those qualities as they are drawn as fully three dimensional people.  And Bansh was the best horse ever.

Magic in this world was given an intriguing twist as well. Rather than being the ultimate weapon that unbalances every battle, most wizards never attain any kind of great power and even tiny amounts require huge sacrifice.  Some wizards never gain any magic at all, which just makes them more interesting.  They are not viewed as failures and sent away, but instead become scholars or teachers and continue on in the order.  Many people on the outside never even know which wizards have true magic and which do not.  It is a practical, real-world tool for solving problems, and advanced knowledge can often be used to solve problems just as much as mystical arts.  Wizards are not the only users of magic in this world, though, and when other forms of it show up they can be properly epic in scope.

Range of Ghosts has a well-developed setting that makes you feel like you’re there with all the little touches filled with details you can sink your teeth into. It also has realistic and well-developed characters and beautiful prose. It may seem to move a little slowly on occasion largely because it seems to be setting up the rest of the trilogy, but it is a fantastic book and I’m looking forward to the next one.

My Rating: 9/10

Where I got my reading copy: Review copy from the publisher. (I also received an e-ARC from the author, but I read the finished copy when it showed up in the mail.)

Read an Excerpt

Other Reviews: