Fangs for the Fantasy is run by Renee from Womanist Musings, and Sparky who love all things Urban Fantasy. While we do love Urban Fantasy, we're also social justice bloggers and we try to be aware – and look at the genre from a social justice lens. Whether we love a series or hate it, we look at it through this lens – and critique it in part based on its treatment of marginalised people and issues affecting them. It doesn't mean we don't love the genre – but even the books and programmes we adore have problematic elements and we refuse to ignore that even while we enjoy them..
In addition to this blog we also have a weekly Podcast on Mondays
Full details can be found on our blog, Fangs for the Fantasy
Mace Llewellyn has changed a lot since his teenaged years - now out of the army and all grown up so very well (and his lion’s mane now growing out to its full glorious length) but he never forgot Desiree MacDermot.
When a murder in his mother’s pride brings him home, he is again reunited with now police detective Desiree. Their attraction burns - but there’s a murder to investigate and Desiree knows nothing of the supernatural - or the politics of werelion prides
While Ronnie Lee, werewolf, has had a wild life and she thinks she’s ready to make better choices and settle down. But does Brendon Shaw, werelion ready to leave the pride life count?
I love so many aspects of the world building here. So many books have sued the concept of the supernatural to justify all kinds of weird and regressive ideas (like alpha werewolves being abusive arseholes for romance and everyone considering it perfectly ok). Which is why I really like how the concept of werelions here is so turned on its head. A society where the men basically do nothing but breed with multiple women and get fed? That sounds so ideal for creating said abusive nonsense. But instead we see female dominated societies, men traded back and forth as breeding stock and discarded when they’re no longer useful (Brendan is considered less useful to the Llewellyn family because he’s already bred several times; they have children from him they don’t especially need him any more). The men live lives of relatively idle luxury but it comes with being treated as very hungry decorative ornaments who can fight really well. One of the linking elements between Brandon, Mace and Mitch is that they’re all heavily opting out of the Pride system because they object to this treatment and usage.
The Hyenas also look savagly interesting. Again a strong sense of community and culture from another supernatural group. If I have any complaint about the world building and these excellent cultures it’s that we focus so much on the romance between the characters that we don’t actually explore these cultures, this world building (and anything else that may be out there) as much as I’d like - there’s something really excellent here but we’re focused so much on the, admittedly fun, relationship that we don’t really delve into it.
I also like the plot lines which explore the worlds far more - the conflict between the shapeshifter groups, the importance of various characters and how certain actions are considered “cheating” even in relatively violent societies and how investigating requires territory wrangling - the plot intertwines excellently with this and is fun to watch. And I quite liked that there were two stories here - because when we focused on Mace we kind of ignored Brandon despite him being more centrally a victim. It was nice to step back and revisit the person who had taken the most hits here
I wasn’t a fan of the sex scenes. Not so much because they were bad but because there were So. Many. Of. Them. And, again, it got in the way of far far far more interesting parts of the book. I found it especially frustrating when Desiree learns about the supernatural and doesn’t particularly examine it or ask many questions.
I have… a niggle. It’s a niggle that comes having already read book 3 (because I managed to completely get the first book in the series wrong). The thing is, Mitch (the protagonist in Mane Attraction), Brandon and Mace all feel…. Pretty similar? Lions who have, for various reasons, opted out of traditional werelion society. Men who are pretty light hearted, jokey and hilarious.
And Sissy, Ronnie Lee and Desiree are… also quite similar. All tough women who prefer casual encounters to relationships and all are pretty severely adamant that they will not will not will not have a long term relationship (either in general or with this specific man). Until the above man continues pushing until she surrenders to the inevitable. The basic frame of the plot, the basic frame of the characters
Nulls are infertile. Everyone knows this. Scarlett certainly knows this So being pregnant was… unexpected to say the least and raised all kinds of implications which she has to learn about quickly But the luparii witches have arrived - they want their Barghest back (Scarlett’s cute pet abomination) and more - they plan something big - possibly apocalyptic and Scarlett is the key to stopping it and likely much much more. I think this book represents a rather excellently timed shift. After two books that have established Scarlett’s life, her relationships (fraught and in flux as they are), her friends, her purpose in the city and how she relates to the city’s leadership, this book turns more outwards and even a little grander. While, at the same time, not necessarily pulling the focus from Scarlett or her more regional concerns The arrival of the Luparii brings not only a sinister threat to the city to be hunted down before they bring carnage. They also represent the greater supernatural community, the wider supernatural politics The examination of null physiology, null breeding and how this relates to the witches also adds a much larger scale to the whole world, the nature of magic and the nature of the supernatural. It expands the world from a relatively narrow circle around Scarlett and puts and entirely new spin on it looking at her world and especially her place and importance within it. Again, it doesn’t shift the focus but it does expand it far more with consequently raised stakes I also think it brings some really fascinating stakes to Scarlett herself. She’s always been a good character - capable and strong without being wonder woman, confident without being too reckless (as far as urban fantasy protagonists go - let’s face it this is a genre where everyone has major overdoses of recklessness) and she’s caring without setting herself up as a martyr. She has friends but a lot of them she doesn’t entirely trust especially within the supernatural community, while she also has some excellent, powerful friendships with people like Molly who are clearly in a very different mental category for her than her political allies. But now her very very personal decisions have such a broader context including for the future of all magical races and at a time where global supernatural politics just became very very confused and very subject to change. It is both very personal to her while also having vast implications which promises a whole lot of exciting storylines in the future. I think this works well with the renewed focus on both Scarlett dealing with her pregnancy and her reconnecting with her brother and considering the deep implications of him being involved in her life. While we’re widening the lens we do have this excellent call back to Scarlett;s personal life so the focus of the story doesn’t change entirely. The direct plot itself is a search and destroy - not so much a mystery as a hunt with a hidden enemy with considerable power. There’s not a lot of questions as to motives or who is behind this but a lot of action and hunting and running. There is an unfortunate habit of the hunted protagonist deciding she really needs to wander around alone going on. But generally it’s an exciting well paced plot full of sinister enemies and desperate good guys with a few fascinating twists which is always good
Mitch has a price on his head - he’s due to testify and the very bad man who he’s testifying against would rather he didn’t. This didn’t stop Mitch, a werelion, attending a wedding full of shapeshifters with his best friend Sassy; but the evening was rather ruined when he was shot
Sassy decided the best way to keep him safe was to take him home to Tennessee to heal where none of his enemies should suspect him being. Of course with her brother, pack politics and an upcoming football game this definitely isn’t a quiet life, especially when friendship creeps into more
I do quite like how the animals that each person turns into informs their culture and personalities. Like the werewild dogs are playful and completely lacking in any kind of shame, extremely communal and convivial and have all kinds of fun while being super, ridiculously over-enthusiastic. I can see these people virtually wagging their tails as they hit the dance flaw with their terrible moves or sing karaoke, all the while the werewolves look on with embarrassment and the werecats are utterly horrified.
Even when this skirts close to reinforcing dubious tropes - like the male lions eating a ridiculous amount and expecting the lionesses to serve them (while at the same time it’s clear the lionesses only tolerate a certain number of lions in the pride) but at the same time it being very clear that there’s a whole lot of veiled tolerance going on and the lionesses in general considering them nigh useless because of this. It’s a nice subversion of having animal traits translate over to their were equivalent without upholding it as good and proper or justified or something to be happy about.
I like the idea of shapeshifter villages and towns in rural America with their own customs, shops and hobbies, linked with how different they are from urban shifters because, in their own towns, they can be so much more openly themselves and develop these practices without humans watching. At the same time I also like that they’re clearly affected by human culture as well, not necessarily unified as one shapeshifter unit or by breed (like a werelion who feels more alignment with southern shapeshifters than she does a yankee werelion)
This book may be one of the very few romances out there that I was actually invested in - because it was one of the very few romances where I could truly believe Sassy and Mitch as a couple long before they had sex. Because they’re fun - they’re so much fun together. They’re friends, and it shows. They can actually have a conversation beyond their relationship or the mission. They can spend time together and laugh and joke and generally enjoy each other’s company without having to be constantly having sex. I never realised just how rare it is to see a couple actually laugh together, a couple willing to make jokes, spend time together and genuinely enjoy each others’ company. They’re both silly, (especially him), enjoy humour, fun and yanking people’s chains for the sake of it.
In some ways them having sex actually dragged the story down because that’s it, that’s what they do. The minute they start having sex that’s all they do and their relationship suddenly feels so much less powerful: the connection between them fades under a wave of endless sex (though I do like Sassy’s horror in realising how much sex her parents are having)
One of the main flaws with this book, especially in the beginning, is the sheer number of characters (of course it turns out my google-fu fails and this is book 3 in a series damn it). There’s a wedding with everyone from very very large families all come together and there are names after names after names and I have no damn idea who half of these people are. Half way through the book I just have so many names in my head I have no idea whose Sassy’s friends whose Mitch’s relatives which of Sassy’s gazillion brothers I’m supposed to like, which are the enemy and… gods alone know who all these people are! It makes it very very hard to follow and recognise what is happening. It made things frustrating until the number of characters were pared down.
Catherine Helstone is determined to find her brother. He has been missing for some time on his mission to bring Christianity to the fae of Arcadia. She’s finally received permission to follow him
The land of Arcadia is like nothing she imagined, with mystery upon mystery to uncover and cryptic inhabitants who never seem to let her get close to the truth. Even finding her brother does little to solve the constant mystery of the castle they’re confined to, the world that is so alien and the inhabitants that do little to encourage their presence
Laon is convinced that the way to learn the truth - and bring the fae to Christianity - is to gain access to the interior. But to do that requires the favour of the alien and frightening Queen Mab.
This is not an easy book to read.
Not because it’s offensive, or badly written or otherwise broken. But because it’s intelligent, it has layers and to truly appreciate it you need to sit and think and examine and explore every line, the implications, the nuances and the thinking. A decent grounding or interest in theology wouldn’t go amiss either (which, honestly, I don’t have, but still appreciated the wrangling over holy writ and lots of awkward questions and wrangling).
The foundation for this book is less a story and more an exploration. Oh we have lots of Catherine’s journey to Arcadia, her living there and the relationship with her brother Laon (more on that later) but the main point of this is exploration and thought. What is faerie, how alien is it: and I have to say here that I have rarely read a depiction of faerie as alien, as fanciful, as weird and as downright creepy as I’ve seen here. From the nature of the individual fae, the the bizarre sun and moon to distances being measured in dreams and epiphanies to the seasons and how things change - it’s utterly perfectly alien. The use of salt on the food, the nature of changelings and Mab and her terrifying, ethereal court: the aesthetics, the theme, the whole feel of this world is excellent. It’s worth reading this book fro this alone.
And to this we add the missionaries - Laon and Catherine, so utterly out of their depth, desperately trying to apply their faith to a world that seems utterly unrelated top it, trying to find the secrets from past missionaries, trying to understand the very nature of the fae and faerie. Complete with twist at the end and excellent machinations from the fae queen
I think I would have appreciated more challenge from the fae at the very idea they need a missionaries - or even a challenge to the nature of missionaries themselves., especially within an Imperial Victorian context. Seen through Cathy’s eyes we never really have any doubt that missionaries do the right thing or bring anything other than truth - despite the theological challenges that are excellently raised throughout the book
Pacing wise, it has to be said, this doesn’t make for a fast or exciting book. In fact it’s damn slow, very verbose and there are huge periods of the story in which nothing really happens. Normally this would be a death knell for me - but I didn’t feel the slowness. The beauty of the setting, the sheer alienness of the fae and the layers of thinking and examination all let me see past that. But it was an issue even if it didn’t break me as it usually would.
Dana McIntyre has always had an issue with vampires, even more than your average vampire hunter. They have history and she holds a grudge
So she does not take being bitten and turning into a vampire well. She fully intends to die before she turns. But not before taking all of Las Vegas’s hundreds of vampires down with her.
There is a possible cure- but is Dana willing to risk that? Can Vegas survive without Dana? And can it survive her vengeance?
I am now becoming ever more intimidated and by S.M. Reine’s world - because she has written about 300 series each of which have eleventy million books in it, all of which are connected and linked to a vast meta plot and world changing activity - and I AM SO BEHIND. So finding this new series my reactions were both lots of glee and a kind of gibbering terror. I will catch up with all her books! I will!
I was going to skip this until I caught up. But the cover. You know I’m not resisting that cover, right?
That said, despite the utter terrifying vastness that is S.M. Reine’s excellent world building and the truly massive amount of events that have passed, this book still works on its own even if you’re unfamiliar with the vastness. It does refer to major events in the larger world - events I’m only vaguely aware of - but this isn’t a vast world changing story. This is the story of Dana, Las Vegas and activities there. This history matters in terms of how the supernatural took over, how people were transformed by the Event and how much changed - but the details of it are not remotely necessary to tell Dana’s story. Ok, the gods thing? The gods thing lost me. I definitely need some severe elaboration on the whole deity thing.
That doesn’t mean the world isn’t amazing and broad and rich and weird. With the very conventional supernatural vampires and wereanimals, but throwing in some truly terrifying and alien fae with a very different take on anything I’ve seen before. And the cutest orc you ever did see
In fact let’s hit Dana and her wife Penny. First of all wife - yes, Dana is a lesbian, yes we have a lesbian protagonist, no she’s not “lesbian for Penny only” she is attracted to women and definitely loves Penny. Their relationship is not in any way fairy tale - there’s a lot of conflict and difficult there: but it’s down to Penny’s previous trauma as a victim of a serial killer, it’s Dana’s obsessive hatred of vampires, it’s her drinking too much - there’s a lot of complexities which make Dana not an easy woman to live with or love but they definitely do love.
Penny is also an orc - which means she’s huge and sweaty and has horns - and is still much gentler, more timid and generally more delicate than the touch talking, hard drinking rough and tumble - though much smaller - Dana. I like that because all too often depictions of same-sex relationships feel the need to throw gender roles in there - and here we have a relationship that turns these stereotypes on their head and has two big, not-conventionally attractive, yet still very powerful women leading it
We also have a trans woman who is an integral part of the city and the story and what i love is that her being trans is not oblique or subtle - we’re very very very clear including the party Penny and Dana had with her to celebrate milestones in transitioning - while also making it clear she’s a fully developed integral character beyond that. She does use being trans as a rhetorical tool a little too extremely to try and poke Dana into action in a way that doesn’t feel appropriate in both the coarse terms and draws unnecessary comparisons with the supernatural.
To me the most compelling character was Nissa, because she was so far away from anything I expected. And I’m frustrated that I can’t reveal anything about the empathic vampire without spoiling so much what makes her so surprising, unique and her story so utterly chilling. This is an excellent, completely unique take on this kind of character that I have never ever seen before and left me confused, slightly in awe and very very disturbed.
We also have Anthony Morales, a major figure in Dana’s organisation who is latino, the second in command of the vampires, and definitely the mover-and-shaker behind the scenes is Indian: both are important in this book and likely to be much more so in future books.
Mallory the Death Witch can talk to ghosts which should really help her as a murder detective. But cryptic messages from a drowned ghost aren’t that helpful in actually solving their murder
When a second almost murder happens nearly right in front of her - and both victims seem to be heavily politically connected which brings even more of a level of pressure and complexity - and personal risk. These are powerful enemies to make
This book adds nicely to the world building in nicely gentle, non-info-dumpy ways. I really like how the book expanded on Selkies, giving us lots of hints about their culture without necessarily sitting us down for a lecture. Similarly the references to how magical beings had obviously faced brutal persecution and predation was referenced - and by referencing it we got the full history and ideal without actually having to lay it all out there. Similarly we have references to different magical creatures beyond the immediate ones we’ve seen as well as the different gods of the witches: and how those can blend with other traditions (one of Mallory’s friends is Jewish and a witch)
I really like how the world building is done in this book - in this series - this general gentle build, the exposure to many elements of the world time after time but never actually throwing a lot of it at us in a way that is false or confusing or irrelevant, making it all grow naturally
And I really like its depiction of police work, complete with so many red herrings, frustrations, complete lack of leads, going back, trying again, and again, looking for some clue. No easy fx, not quick answer with lots of wild theories on the way. And at the same time the police actually have lives, none of this idea that they should all spend every waking moment on the job. Yes they have lives and friends and hobbies and exercise and go running on a full moon through werewolf haunted woods (hey I didn’t say they did sensible things in their free time. Though, honestly, while I this is the kind of decision that would normally make me roll me eyes, I really like how this was portrayed. With mallory planning her perfect day, having it disrupted and promising herself that she could still salvage it, she could still get in that run, even as it increasingly became obvious she couldn’t, she promised herself it and couldn’t let it go. I can see that - because it’s the sort of thing people who do. Who like running, I guess. I mean, i find the whole thing quite bizarre, but if you sub in “pizza” for “run” then it makes a lot more sense). And they don’t spend all their time focusing on one case either. This murder matters - but there’s a lot of crime out there!
The plot just works with all this, her friends work with this and I love the world building
An element about Mallory and Jakob’s relationship - it is rare and interesting to have a series start with a relationship rather than have them fall in love and build a relationship during the series. I like the idea of that as it starts us in a very different place and also avoids fast forwarding the relationship. We also have Mallory and Jakob living very different lives which is also very different from most of the genre. Jakob is a vampire but he’s also a businessman, he has his own life and job and it doesn’t really intersect with Mallory’s job as a police detective. This is, again, really unique and I like it - I like that they have a relationship and don’t constantly live in each other’s lives and Mallory doesn’t have to fall back on Jakob’s woo-woo, resources or anything else. It’s surprisingly unique and I like it a lot
But… and I feel nitpicky saying it… I don’t have a huge sense of their relationship. Certainly not that they’re in love to the point of her moving in with them because they don’t seem to spend a lot of time together… I mean they spend time together - and have sex. He cooks for her - which is nice; and I really like how this goes into his past about how he faced famine and lost family members. This is excellent on several levels because it stops romanticising the past and adds an extra level of pathos to what living hundreds of years means and how it can leave long lasting scars. I mean it’s great about his development - but for their relationship? The one thing they willingly share together is now kind of pathologised… and it was all they had was sex (and they have a lot of sex - and I’m not against sex but they need something other than sex, desperate feeder obsession and Painful Conversations About Vampires). The few social occasions they spend together - going to his church for mass (she’s not religious), a birthday party for E (which Mallory spent all evening being kind of a less than pleasant grump), watching the super-bowl (which Jakob isn’t really interested in). I get tolerating your partner’s hobbies, believe me, I’m endured a lot of inept attempts to learn how to play musical instruments - but your relationship needs to be more than sex, deep-seated insecurity and then tolerating each other.
I really like that they have seperate lives and we didn’t see the beginning of the relationship - but now we need to see that actual relationship
Last book Angel, literally, fell apart. It’s a zombie problem.
She’s back together now - but there’s another zombie problem: Shamblers. Mindless, hungry, aggressive… and contagious. Suddenly all of those fantastical images of a zombie apocalypse seem very real. And no matter what the outcome, it won’t end well for the zombies of the Tribe
The Tribe is willing to go to extreme levels to find a cure as soon as possible, even work with sworn enemies like Christy Charish. As more and more of their human loved ones are at risk, time is running out and Angel worries her own past choices may be responsible for the growing body count.
Angel struggles to find a cure, to be taken seriously, to protect the ones she loves even as she resolves their complicated relationship. And she has zombiegators. Which are awesome.
The plot here is a wonderful investigation of a new zombie plague which draws upon… everything
Y’know, while acknowledging that I am an utter fanpoodle here, I have to say how good Diana Rowland is doing this. She takes these wonderful long series, pulls together many themes and events - and then when getting to the later books in the series manages to bring together EVERYTHING - yet at the same time makes it work! She did the same thing with the equally awesome Kara Gillian series. We’re drawing on Angel’s relationship with her father, we have her ex boyfriend and his family and conflict, her relationship with the Tribe, how they survive, the moral quandaries they face, keeping their secret and not going into the dark side, Sabreton’s shenanigans, her job, her love life: all of it is here. And all of it works.
We continue the world building of the Tribe, the conflicts they face deciding how to keep surviving. We have some really excellent explorations of zombie history, the nature of Mature Zombies and their abilities and even a moment where a past assumption/theory is disproved. I really like this because how often is mystical world building presented as solid unquestionable fact? That isn’t how science works, it’s never how science works.
The world building remains solid. The investigation is fun, well paced, full of heavy emotion and with several wrong turns and red herrings capped off with some really excellent twists. The balance of all those world elements is excellently mixed with the plot so the pacing remains good - in fact it works even better because these red herrings and frustrated lack of leads never makes the book feel slow (which can be a problem in investigation books)
And seeing Angel spar with Christy, especially at the end, is excellent. Seeing Angel hold her own is generally always fun
The main, joyous, most perfect part of this series has always been Angel Crawford herself. Her story, her growth, her journey has just been amazing since the very first book and a perfect take on class and gender and disability and growth and maturity and education vs intelligence and so much more. In the beginning she was a drug addict and didn’t generally have her life together - but becoming a zombie we have followed her from book to book to see her get things sorted. We’ve seen her kicking her habit, get her education, hold down her job, put her relationship with a dad on a much better level. This book continues all of this and more: we see Angel becoming more and more confident in herself. We see her actually now having goals and ambitions for herself and even considering a full career and realising she can be so much more. And she’s setting those ambitions high - encouraged by excellent people who support her like Dr. Nykas - things she considered impossible are now within her grasp and she believes she can do it - get a degree, become a scientist and researcher alongside Dr. Nykas. Just the fact that she now believes she can do this just shows how far she has come in terms of confidence
We also see some how she’s grown with her relationships - because she’s no longer taking any condescension from the people around her. She isn’t stung by Christy taking jabs at her intelligence because she knows she’s wrong. We have seen her challenge Marcus in the past about the condescending way he’s treated her - but this evolves into her standing her ground with everyone: including Pierce leader of the Tribe. What I especially really really really really really really love here is how she challenges Pierce and others for looking down on her, giving her orders or otherwise telling her what to do EVEN WHEN she may be wrong. Even when she concedes she makes a mistake or something she does doesn’t go as well as she’d hoped - she is still very clear that her being wrong doesn’t mean she’s stupid or doesn’t have good judgement or needs to do as she’s told or not take the lead. Angel has arrived at a place where she knows she deserves respect and demands that. And it’s beautiful. Angel does her own thing, makes her own decisions and demands to be respected as an equal by everyone. And there’s no spunky agency at all! Every decision Angel makes, even wrong ones - are excellently made and reasonable
James has managed to get a scholarship for Oxford University. He expects challenges from academics, from sports, from being a poor notherner in the elite college. He even could handle a dangerous and unpleasant room mate
He did not expect murder. He certainly didn’t expect witches, witch hunters and being in the middle of an ancient war.
One of the hardest kind of reviews to write is for a book that…. Isn’t terrible? Especially when that kind of covers everything you need to say about it. Honestly I find reviews like this are both harder to write than a review that condemns the books very existence and an utter offense to the eyes of everyone who read it and in some ways more damning. I mean, everyone can read my passionate loathing for a book yet somehow it feels better than my… mild amusement?
But unfortunately mild amusement is the best this book gets from me: I don’t dislike by any means, I enjoyed it, it was an entertaining read, but there was nothing especially unique or compelling about it that drew me in or made me want to pick up the next book
Like the enemies - they’re witches. I do appreciate that the book took steps to distance evil, non-human witches and actual wiccans so we’re not demonising a whole religion, so applause (I also like that secrecy in this case is maintained because past witch hunts have shown what damage revelations can bring). But the book also did very little to define what witches were other than “evil”. Inherently evil - evil for being born, power hungry, ruthless and dangerous. It feels.. Cheap to just decide “hey evil” especially when your antagonist is so very near-human. This leads to things like the Council “binding” witches magic so they can’t use power - does this happen every time or just witches who commit crime? Is there any kind of nuance in terms of sentencing? Can witches be seen as possibly innocent? Do all of them need binding? These are all elements that aren’t explore and even james, as a man who chatters incessantly as he tells us, fails to look at even remotely.
There’s also very little exploration of magic beyond “it exists” and less real making magic an actual appreciable of the story or the witch’s existence. You could, honestly replace “witches” with vampires, demons or wereracoons and not appreciably change the story. The actual nature of the bad guys is pretty much irrelevant, they’re just a rather Generic Bad Thing to fight
Similarly, while there’s a little more information on the Hunters, in that we know they have a council and Generations, with each generation having more abilities. But there’s, again, painfully little exploration of this. How do they get these powers? (And their large stash of magical artefacts for that matter) WHAT are these powers (beyond an ill-defined magic sense?) Are they human? What counts as a generation? Does one or both parents have to be a Hunter? What about James who is a “first gen” does that mean his children would become second? If so how is this inherited?
Oh wow there is such a lot here. So very much here.
We have a completely amazingly different alternate world. A modern day British Empire - with all the issues of Imperialism and Colonialism attached and examined. This isn’t some excuse to just play with the aesthetics - the Empire is not a benevolent force by any means (though there is some fascinating complexity there. I love how while definitely an issue, it also stands out as one of the few nations that don’t brutally persecute vampires). But also with magic and demons equally drastically changing the shape of the world. From the United Nations of Native Americans who most certainly have not been conquered, to mainland Europe badly overrun by demons. On top of this we have a definitely steampunk aesthetic which is always beautiful and fascinating
We have a complex and fascinating magic system with so many possibilities and implications - from how magic is used in the Industrial Revolution to how powerful mages are treated, to the maths and formula talented and skilled magic users perform while at the same time having some excellent takes on how magic is treated in different regions, different talents and how they can certainly match or surpass more formal training.
I can’t stress enough, the breadth and fascination of the world building, the different nations, the different branches of the government and forces, the
To that we have some awesome action scenes, lots of exciting and dramatic magic, a brutal and terrifying police investigation with lots of mystery, lots of battles and some generally excellent, fast paced writing (generally, I’ll get to that) and some really genuine creepiness as well.
And my gods there was a definite twist there. A truly excellent twist that brought all the myriad plot points together truly awesomely.
Our main character, Sully, is powerful, intelligent and capable both as a magic user and as an investigator. She doesn’t have any real respect for authority - but that doesn’t make her a mouthy rebel without purpose. She’s passionate, excellent fun and a definite force to be reckoned with. She’s an excellent protagonist. And she’s a lesbian, and she’s sexual - both casually and with a long term albeit fraught relationship with another woman. And there are definitely issues with their tumultuous relationship it is nothing to do with their sexuality and far more to do with vampirism and commitment issues and previous bad experiences.
The pathologist is a fascinating and eternally curious Indian man, her main conspirator and fellow researcher into the murders is a deeply academic, ferociously intelligent and amazingly well connected, politically astute Black man. One of her fellow cops and one she most relies on is a definite Man of Colour and we have a presence from the United Nations - of Native Americans. It’s a definite diverse book with clear depictions of minorities, all alongside ongoing examinations of persecution, imperialism and even how, for example, Sully can awkwardly fit in the system as an IBI officer and give people a heads up who may be hurt by the system
Jack Shepherd, soldier, weretiger, veteran, is returning home to Dead End, a tiny town in isolated rural Florida, to handle his dead uncle’s affairs. And his pawn shop
A shop part owned by Tess, a young woman who is determined to keep the business going, is good at what she does and has little time for him
Whatever conflicts they may have can’t be spared any time though when a body appears on the shop’s doorstep: and it’s not the fist. No-one told Jack how his uncle died.
Looking at this cover I was struck by an overwhelming sense of Sookie Stackhouse Series. Now, normally I shy away from comparisons to other book series as it inevitably tends to cast the books your talking about in a shadow: but I’m going here because a) I don’t think many authors are going to dispute the dominance of the Sookie Stackhouse series in the genre and b) I’m comparing favourably
Because it has many of the interesting themes of that series - the small town and close community feeling. A character who is very much an every-person without being the specialist-special-person of supreme Sueness. A world that is extremely magically diverse with magic and wereanimals and witches and hints of many things more. It takes a nice small town setting we don’t often see in books (in this case a pawn shop - and doesn’t that have the chance for so many supernatural shinies to show up?)
But it also has many elements that improve the concept: we have characters getting involved in a murder investigation for an actual legitimate reason rather than just randomness (considerable suspicion of the law enforcement and their collusion with the big bad). We have a small town that suggests and actual reason for the supernatural to be there - with it’s own not-defined-but-often mentioned independent history and hidden supernatural community suggests there’s a good reason why the supernatural is here. And a similar reason why outsider authority doesn’t run in
The world is aware of the supernatural- but this has been developed into more than “there are vampires”. There’s suggestion of a broader history, wars, cultural context all from the revelations of the supernatural to the world (which I believe have been covered in different books by the same author). But this book very carefully focuses on the town - we have a wonderful sense of the greater, wider world but this town is what is relevant at the moment.
Tess isn’t a character defined by either super powers or Spunky Agency, she rarely makes decisions that makes me despair and she doesn’t hate all other women! Her best friend, Molly, is clearly a big part of her life, competent, accomplished and fun. She loves her aunt and uncle who she lives with (and despite not living with her parents isn’t overwhelmed by her Tragic Past) and has a fun female co-worker at the pawn shop (despite her lack of gun skills). She seems to respect the other characters around her, her neighbours in general and generally be a pretty decent character rather than use her internal monologue as a way to try and establish why she doesn’t belong or is superior to those around her
She and Jack are pretty much doomed to fall into a relationship and they do have the Obligatory I-don’t-like-you-because-it’s-a-romance-and-people-who-like-each-other-can’t-fall-in-love. Why oh why I don’t know but it’s a rule. Romantic partners must hate each other at least a little. But they get over it and beyond a little unseemly drooling they manage to work together in a way that maintains respect, isn’t overwhelmed with attraction when they’re trying to find murderers and manages to avoid both her doing the “hey I’m going to charge into danger alone and unarmed to show my strength!” and him avoiding the “I am going to lock you in a small cage to prove my protective devotion!” tropes.
The story comes together as an excellent introduction nicely balanced between character setting, world setting, character build up and setting out how these characters meet. Since we know where Jack goes from here, this is almost like a prologue to the main series rather than a book in and of itself, but it works as a prologue. It sets everything out and lays down the style which is appealling and gives a real sense of what these books will be, what they’ll be about and how these characters came to be who they are and how they forged the connection
Gibson, Bringer of the De La Vega werejaguar Jamboree, has no time or patience for representatives of a much smaller Jamboree violating his territory and makes this very very clear
And then is shot with silver bullets
Thankfully, Mia is close when he is shot and able to get him to safety; a wonderful foundation for a new friendship… but not so much when Mia and Gibson’s families have been at odds for generations. And Mia herself is still recovering from a brutal crime and trying to figure out what to do with her life: getting involved in Jamboree politics in the face of attempted murder was not on the agenda.
I’m going to say I was torn when I first picked up this book. I knew Lauren Dane as an author focuses onParanormal Romance which I’m just not a huge fan of. This isn’t a criticism of her or the genre by any means, merely an expression of different taste. So that leads me to think “not for me” and back off - except she also wrote the Rowan Summerwaite Series which I love and I consider it to be a deep and terrible crime that there are not more books in this series. So I approach this from a complicated position of high and low expectations.
And so we have this book - which is a paranormal romance with an interesting world, some great characters and generally something I really enjoyed which means in the future I’m going to be even more confused
Oh to add to the ways I unnecessarily complicate what should be a simple review - I managed to pick up book 3 of a series. Yes, so this is me deleting my review complaining “I feel like I jumped half way in to a series and have a missed a whole lot of back story!” It turns out that’s because I jumped half way into a series and have indeed missed a whole lot of back story. Go me. So let me add some praise for this book both giving me enough information about the characters and world setting for me to actually enjoy and understand this book but not trying to dump so much back story into this book as to make it unwieldy. Oh and this series is a spin off from an even larger series. Yes this has not been my best decision.
I often dislike the tropes that are common in most of the paranormal romances I read as they seem to be summed up by “unreasonable people turning minor issues into ridiculous convoluted obstacles”. I generally think all these people should stay away from each other because no relationship that has two people this inclined to drama could possibly work except for the neighbours if they have a big enough supply of popcorn
But this book takes so many of these Issues and then… behaves quite reasonably? Like Gibson and Mia’s families have a long grudge after some seriously Not Ok shit Gibson’s granddad pulled on Mia’s grandmother. This has clearly left long wounds on Mia’s families and is a barrier between them. But one that is resolved because everyone is truly shockingly sensible and realises that maybe holding a grudge for 2 generations may not be that fair?
Or there’s the time Mia is angered because Gibson suggests that maybe she needs protection and she pushes back at the idea but doesn’t turn it into more than a moment they need to address - and doesn’t run off on her own or something equally ridiculous to prove her strength and courage
Or there’s the time Mia’s mother is furious because Mia’s relationship with Gibson appears to have put her at risk. Yes that’s a barrier but equally it’s recognised that Mia doesn’t want to derail her future for it nor will doing so make the threat disappear
It’s not that the conflicts that we so often see in Paranormal Romance aren’t present; it’s that the characters deal with these conflicts like actual human beings who respect each other and have half an ounce of sense and it’s amazing how that really does make these storylines so much easier to follow.
And it gave me much more chance to like Gibson and Mia, their history, their experiences, their clearly powerful connections to their families who are so very important to them without them having to dominate the story. (I suspect, now, that these characters will receive)
Antimony Price, youngest of the Price siblings is Not Happy. I mean, she’s never been her older sister Verity’s biggest fan but after she effectively declared war on the Covenant and revealed their continued existence to their old enemy she’s effectively put the whole continent - and her family in particular - at risk
They need to know what the Covenant is planning. They need a spy - and Antimony is the only current family member who doesn’t LOOK like a Price, she has to be the one to do it.
Of course being American - and with her skillset in travelling fairs - she’s also prime recruitment material for the Covenant which has never succeeded in getting a foothold in the US… but being a Price pretending to be Covenant pretending to be a performer certainly doesn’t make things simple
To me this book really proved just how well established and developed the main characters of this series are.
Because I didn’t like Antimony at the beginning of this book - I actively disliked her. Why? Because she doesn’t like her sister Verity and is very angry with her. I’ve read 3 books with Verity as the protagonist; I’ve followed her story, I’ve invested in her, I’ve cheered her on, I’ve loved the Arboreal Priestess. So when Antimony expresses her dislike I’m here on a firm “Excuse you, are you coming for my lady, Verity?! Oh hell no, you go through me Annie!”
Because this is how good those books were and how good Verity is: I’d invested in her sufficiently that I have a knee-jerk need to stand up for her against another fictional character.
(And, honestly, I’m not entirely over it by the end of the book - because while I didn’t dislike Antimony by the end, I still very much like Alex and Verity more).
I quickly grew to like Antimony, of course, because she’s also awesome and her beef with Verity is based on reason. I don’t agree with all of it but there’s more of a kernel of truth to it and it also underlines the great differences between the two sisters (It also means we can look back at Verity and Alex and their opinions of Antimony and see their views of their hostile and excessively violent sister are in turn skewed). Antimony has never had the same conflict as her sister. She has always known who she is and what she wants to be. She has takes her duty and family legacy extremely seriously alongside her dedication to weaponry and skills; she never had Verity’s conflict over what she actually wanted to be and do. Her views of her sister come from this lens and they’re not wrong - nor entirely right - but from such very different perspectives.
From that nuance I also love Antimony’s work with the Covenant. This is the first time we got to see inside the Covenant and learned a lot more about their training regime, their obsession with bloodlines and more of their hatred of all things supernatural and cryptid. I like the way they’re balanced - I expected them to be shown as human rather than cackling maniacal monsters, that kind of is expected now. I even expected Antimony to be somewhat sympathetic to a couple of characters (especially the layers of complexity towards her cousin, the Covenant loyalist who is treated appallingly simply because of the Price family’s defection). But so often when you have these “oh look the evil bigots are human!” it’s used to forgive or forget their bigotry and evil (a habit followed by news media as much as books). But while Antimony can see the humanity of the Covenant, at every single point of introspection she remembers that these people want to murder other sentient creatures just because of what they are. That is never forgotten, that is never downplayed no matter how human the covenant can be. Newspapers should take note.
I also like how it really highlights the viewpoint of the Price family - from looking on a classic picture of George slaying the dragon and seeing the horror of a murderer killing a sentient being just because of its species. While also being clear that the Price’s are themselves not all fluffy and kind - when she finds a clear murderous cryptid she doesn’t hesitate to fight and kill. But even then we have an excellent piece of examinations as to the why - including isolation and lack of knowledge of how to BE a cryptid when most of your species have been wiped out.
Nothing is taken simplistically - the causes and effects are examined and questioned and the cryptids are treated as people. Even a cryptid that eats people will get the Price family asking “well why is it eating people?”
This is this excellent world setting that really works with perfectly developed characters to create something truly fascinating - all the while with a good amount of fun action and hijinks. I also love how much research and thought is put into things like giving Antimony a cover identity - all these little details really make the story real. And it’s why I love them so much (and the Aislinn Mice of course. Hail!)
Jonah Heywood is a shaman and a grifter, just scraping by -barely able to pay his ever spiralling booze bill
Which is a problem when you owe a large sum of money to a loan shark quite willing to break every bone in your body then move on to your family.
So when a woman approaches him with a deal he knows he shouldn’t take, a job he should avoid and a magical artefact he knows he wants no part of; he has to say yes
Jonah Heywood is a character that makes a lot of terrible decisions and he’s pretty unique for that
At which I hear you all yell “but you complain constantly about characters making terrible decisions!!!” Which is true - but in those cases I’m complaining about a character making terrible decisions that no-one - least of all the author - is willing to acknowledge as such. This isn’t a protagonist leaping blindly through portals or conducting one person searches of all Siberia - and succeeding. This is a protagonist making bad decisions which are constantly acknowledged: in fact so much of the plot ran simply because Jonah makes bad decisions which constantly put him in bad situations and leave him with further few good options.
Jonah is an alcoholic. He is in debt and making terrible choices to get out of debt. He is traumatised and not dealing well - or at all - with his traumatic past. He is making the worst enemies in the worst ways and generally just about everything he does I want to yell “STOP! STOP!”. But this isn’t like so many books we’ve read because - because the book is written to EXPECT me to say “stop”. At no point am I expected to agree with Jonah’s choices. At very least every time near-constantly drunk Jonah gets behind the wheel of a car I cringe.
And there’s a really nice balance between Jonah doing terrible things because he has not real choice while at the same time Jonah simply not making good choices: largely because he is in utter denial of where he is (especially in relation to his alcoholism) and in utter denial of the fact He Needs Help. Jonah needs an intervention. Jonah needs a keeper.
I want to route for Jonah. But not for him to win but for him to LEARN. I don’t want or need him to be awesome - I need him to be better; I don’t want him to ascend to be the all powerful one, I want him to put his life together. I want him to sort himself out.
And this is interesting to me because in the opening lines of this book I was sure I knew what this story would be - from the starting in a bar, hard drinking, war wounded, cynical with a woman coming in - who even if she wasn’t DESCRIBED that way you mentally call “dame”. The hyper-powered, hard bitten noir-ish: the Harry Dresden, the Yancey Lazarus, the Remy Chandler (and I won’t lie, I LOVE that whole schtick. Yes yes I do) but then for it to surprise me by turning what I expected to be a hyper-powerful over-the-top character into, perhaps, what that cynic, hard-bitten character would ACTUALLY look like was really an interesting twist. And I found myself really loving that
Side note here: it feels almost like whoever edited this book skipped the first few pages. The writing is actually inexcusably terrible, it’s long winded, convoluted, the dialogue is comic when read aloud, it’s super repetitive (with different characters all quirking eyebrows at each other) and I wrote loads of notes about the abysmal text… but that fades really quickly. I’m not sure why the first few pages skipped editing but it’s worth it to hang on in there.
And Jonah isn’t hyper powerful either. He has magic - he’s a shaman who has some nifty tricks up his sleeve but he is far from dangerous and mighty and definitely not a heavy weight. His magic nicely fits into the world building which is really nicely hinted at in this book (i really love the depiction of spirits here) but there’s more a foundation for more to come. For a story all about a shaman stealing a magical artefact from an all-powerful voodoo Mambo at the behest of a near god it’s all quite mundane.
The plot itself is fun - not unique in and of itself: it’s a classic find the Maltese Falcon plot line. We have twists and an exceptional one at the end; but what holds it together is this unique character and the foundations it lays for something truly epic to come.
The biggest powerful force in this book is a Black woman and her family - she’s extremely powerful but also clearly good. And that is important for any practitioner of voodoo since it’s so often demonised in the media. She is compassionate, even in opposition to Jonah and while she doesn’t play a huge role; she clearly represents the road not taken: the Sensible Choice. Also I think she’s going to be a major element of this series far more so.
Queen Victoria is dead, killed along with her whole family in a terrible terrorist attack that shook the empire and led to Juliette, young, inexperienced and far from the throne as the next queen
The New World Order has claimed responsibility for the deaths and threatens not just Juliette’s reign but the world itself; Juliette must try to expose this conspiracy while securing her nascent throne, some inconvenient romances and the hunt for Excalibur itself.
Fantastical Steampunk is one of my favourite genres - I do like the whole aesthetic and plot of running around in dirigibles with mechanical arms and steam powered gadgets - but to throw magic, unicorns (unicorns!!!) and arthurian legend in as well and I am sold. We’re taking those elements - magic and machines - and engaged in deadly attempt to take down a shadowy conspiracy that would plunge the whole world into chaos by any means necessary, with battles, shadowy plans and lots of hidden agendas and looking behind every corner for who the enemy is.
If anything I wish this book had explored this more because the world we have laid out here is really excellent. The existence of magic, Excalibur and air ships it all tantalises so much - but that’s kind of the theme of this book: tantalises. We have Excalibur with apparently lots of powers and perhaps its own agenda but we don’t really explore that.
We have a fascinating female crime boss with a shadowy but apparently legitimate past running around doing swashbuckling things… but we don’t really focus on her except as a provider of resources.
We have the American heiress to a major technological corporation pursuing an illicit love affair and ready to offer friendship - but we don’t really explore her
We have a street urchin turned footman with a mechanical arm and lots of streetwise contacts
We have a society of magic users who apparently follow the legacy of Merlin and have done so for generations - but they’re only mentioned.
A county whose principle resource is unicorns, is in much demand by European nations and appears to be African (it’s not explicitly stated but North Africa was implied), but we only get their prince visiting?
It’s like this whole book throws out a million fascinating storylines, characters, world building etc and we don’t actually spend much time on examining any of these amazing things instead focusing on Juliette
Who is a decent fun character but kind of overshadowed by the vast potential of everyone around her. Not because she’s bad, but because everyone else around her, everything else around her, could be so amazing
Part of this is because of the general feel of Juliette. I mean, I like Juliette - as a “plucky adventuress uses grit, determination and intelligence to overcome great odds” Steam Punk protagonist she’s great and would fit nicely with characters from Magnificent Devices, The Finishing School Series, Girl Genius, or even early Parasol Protectorate. Her character is fun and embodies many of the elements I love about the protagonists of these series
But she’s the Queen of England. She is the heir to Queen Victoria (who died, presumably early in her reign since there aren’t eleventy million heirs) at the height of the British Empire. This character running off alone, doing lots of things by herself, being on the front lines and generally not being surrounded by a gazillion staff. Even the assumption of a grand conspiracy from the very beginning seems highly dubious on the strength of one terrorist attack. Juliette has 1 maid, 1 aid of her father’s from before she became queen and a military captain - she picks up a couple of others along the way (complete strangers with no background checks which, again, makes no sense!) but this is a ridiculous lack of support for the Queen of England. The whole framing of her character just doesn’t make sense and we have a weird feeling of dodging between being helpless, alone and lacking resources and then jumping back to “I’m the richest and most powerful woman in the world”. It just doesn’t work and it blends with the odd band of misfits she has around her which… also doesn’t work.
Katya has spent a long time struggling with her visions and ability to see things others cannot - but she has managed to carve out a normal life and put that behind her. It’s not perfect, her boyfriend is certainly far from it - but it is a life with normal problems.
In as much as anyone has normal problems in a world which seems ever more pressured, with growing earthquakes and horrors.
Until she meets Gregor, Kyrios, supernatural agent charged with making sure the dead cross over - and the monsters that haunt her and prey on humanity are dispatched. Those monsters are becoming ever bolder and more dangerous - and Katya with her unique ability and power may be the key to saving the world
We have an intriguing world setting here - one that takes the concept of demons and does something quite original with it. The Want, these beings driven to feed on human life energy and doing whatever they can to increase the number of vulnerable dead people to feast on. It all establishes a very frightening and overtly awful antagonist with enough variations to make for a varied enemy while not overloading the plot.
But the origin of the Want works well - without spoiling because it would be a shame, it adds a level of complexity and even tragedy beyond the atrocities they inflict. And this is further complicated by the Kyrios’s role: both as shepherds and warriors and how they actually come to be created.
I like that - I like how we’ve balanced a relatively simplistic thread of an antagonist but then included enough complexities to prevent a simple good & evil reading of the world. Which works well with Katya’s own growth because, as an outsider to this she does arrive with a narrow viewpoint which in turn makes it difficult to fully integrate her with the Kyrios
I also like that this, the first book, has been smart enough to include some more hooks to the world building - specifically nodding towards angels - while resisting the temptation to stuff all the things into the first book
Other than the romance, which I’ll get to, I generally like the plot - it moves well but does have a pacing issue in the middle. We’re told about the terribad awful things the Want are doing in the living world and how essential Katya’s help would be but she doesn’t seem to be spending a huge amount of time training or, well, doing anything about it.
I do like Katya’s working with the Kyrios - there are times when I thought we were going to see some signs of Keillie Independence and Spunky Agency. But Katya doesn’t run off on her own or decide to ignore the input of others. When she acts emotionally and angrily towards the Kyrios hierarchy it fits: it’s not necessarily how I’d act, but I can see her firmly drawing her lines. She isn’t a member, she isn’t a servant, she’ll be polite but expects the same back, it works really well
On top of this interesting story and world we then decide that our ancient immortal warrior will fall in love with our teenaged, high-school attending protagonist