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Giveaway: ‘The Anxiety of Kalix the Werewolf’ by Martin Millar

The Anxiety of Kalix the WerewolfThe Anxiety of Kalix the Werewolf is the third entry to a series that started with the brilliant Lonely Werewolf Girl.  I am a huge fan of the series and the author and will reading this  outing in early February.  And thanks to the good folks at Soft Skull press I won’t be the only one with this opportunity.  Up for grabs are three copies of a galley for this title, one each for three lucky winners.  (U.S. only)  So old fans can join me and reading the continued adventures of my favorite violent werewolf and new fans will have a solid reason to catch up.  Intrested?  Of course you are.  Here is the blurb.

Most of the Scottish Werewolf Clan have a very low opinion of Kalix Macrinnalch, youngest daughter of the Thane. There is little sympathy for her illiteracy, her substance abuse, her self-harming, her eating disorder, her anxiety, depression and propensity for extreme violence. Safe from her clan in London, and living with two friendly students, she’s been much calmer. If only she were allowed to live quietly, she might get on top of her problems.

Unfortunately, that’s difficult for the young werewolf. She’s still the number one target for the werewolf hunters, and they’re stepping up their efforts to find her. And no matter how Kalix tries to make her life more normal, there will always come a time when, under threat, her insanity and battle-madness will descend on her, and the skinny young girl will again transform into the most feared and ferocious werewolf in the country.

Get an extra entry by commenting below with you favorite werewolf in fiction, or favorite book involving them.  And though not required it is always nice if you follow Fantasy Review Barn, Marin Millar, and even Soft Skull Press through Twitter, or follow the blog in your preferred method.

Be sure to read my review of Lonely Werewolf Girl, and good luck to all the entries!

 

THIS GIVEAWAY ENDED 2/13/14 – Thanks for all the entries!

Fantasy Review: ‘Moth and Spark’ by Anne Leonard

Moth and SparkWith a possible marriage proving important in Moth and Spark, debut novel of Anne Leonard, I decided to pigeon hold it into an old wedding superstition.   Something old; a love story at the heart of war.  Something new (at least to me); dragons that are not fully tied to humans nor completely independent, but rather a bit of both.  Something borrowed; well, there is nothing completely original about rebellions, love stories or even dragon riders, is there?  And something blue.  Um, I think lead female Tam wore a blue dress to the ball, didn’t she?  If not go with the cover, it has a lot of blue on it

Immensely readable, hard to put down, and short in length – this is the type of story that I used to read in a single sitting when I actually had time to do so.  Following only two major players; young prince Corin and his soon to be love interest Tam, the book fills the pages with a lot of happenings without any rush or bloat.  We are given not boring build up; Corin is stopped by a dragon rider in the first few pages and it is soon known he shall lead them in a rebellion against the Emperor who controls them.  From there we join him on a quest of war, rebellion, and love.  Oh, and we meet a few dragons along the way.

By following only two characters a lot happens in this world but we only get to know what Tam and Corin know.  This is not a book that forces you to memorize a map, know troop movements, or follow anything outside of these two characters world.  This is a good thing; it allows the aforementioned short length without forcing a rushed ending and doesn’t make the world feel small by forcing the main cast to take care of everything.  Tam and Corin must take care of their own important task while the world moves around them.

What I really appreciated about this book was the way it flirted with familiar tropes.  It never actually left them behind, nor tried to subvert them entirely, but instead danced with them; using them when they were not broken and stepping outside of them when needed.  I appreciated seeing a royal court that wasn’t pure back stabbing politics and cruel pranks on the new girl.  Tam ran afoul of a few to be sure, but never did the court fall into ‘these people are evil’ and ‘these are the good people who will befriend our protagonist.’  Tam fits the action girl trope herself, always the smartest in the room and ready to speak her mind.  But she stays believable throughout; in a world based around a patriarchy she does a lot and has no lack of agency; but does nothing that makes her seem like the exception to the gender-status rules.   Tam is quick to take charge but isn’t suddenly swinging a sword around and fighting off trained soldiers.  And the dragons themselves, though hard to talk about without spoilers, are manipulative without actually being unlikable.

There is a love story here which I am of two minds about.  On one hand it is very rushed and requires a bit of a personality change in the prince that I am not sure about.  But on the other hand I have no hard time buying that two people so young could have an infatuation as strong as they felt that would lead to every action they took.  And as the entire story takes place in a fairly short time, without any annoying ‘happily ever after’ prologue, I am not forced to buy the fact that this was ‘one true love at first sight.’  So I am going to call this a success.

I must comment on how strongly this book managed to wrap up what was looking like too many threads into a conclusion that answered a lot of questions in a hurry without ever feeling rushed.  Little plot points I was finding implausible suddenly made since; there was tension without throwing in something unexpected or implausible, and we got real resolution to the major story arc while letting us know that the author is well aware that not everything was solved but that was for other players in the game to deal with.

I have only a few quibbles.  While I can’t call it a plot hole because the explanation was in there I am still confused on how the dragons became beholden in the first place (though how they were kept under control after was perfectly clear).  And maybe it was intentional but there were a lot of real world allusions that raised an eyebrow; they shared a very similar set of fairy tales as we do for instance.

I rare book that I felt could be a bit longer, but solid throughout.  Perfect for a lazy afternoon if you are a person who still finds time for those.  It is somewhat rewarding to read a book that I know nothing about, and always cool to see a debut that shows so much potential.

4 Stars

Review copy provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Sci-Fi Review: ‘God’s War’ by Kameron Hurley

God's War (Bel Dame Apocrypha, #1)Completely indescribable and apologetically dark, God’s War quickly became a favorite of mine when I read it several years back.  Recently, due to the magic of twitter, I learned my friends across the ocean are just now able to get their hands on it.  That little tidbit also reminded me that I have not read the concluding volume of this trilogy.  So I decided to remedy that this year; and in order to do so I knew I had to reread the first two.  As I read them pre-blog, I will give them a quick review as well.

Indescribable is what I said, but I can try.  Sci-fi in a way; there is bio engineering and ‘aliens,’ but it often reads like a fantasy.  Main character Nyx is a bounty hunter who slings a sword to bring in her bounty’s heads, carries a hidden arsenal of knives and poised needles, and her team includes a magician and a shape shifter.  And there are bugs.  Everywhere.  This is a planet over ran by them.  Wild bugs are dangerous enough but what the people of this world can do with them is fascinating.  Magic based around calling them, medicine based their unique benefits; even the cars are based around live bugs as fuel.  It is crazy but somehow it works.

Is it dark?  Oh hell yes.  It starts with Nyx killing a boy who ran from an age old holy war that has decimated the male population of two countries.  Quickly we see her betrayal; she is kicked out of the Bel Dame service (official bounty hunters) and after jail is forced to freelance work.  There are torture scenes, heavy drinking characters and lots of fighting over beliefs.  But there is also a lot of heart.  Nyx keeps a loyal team despite her many (many) issues.  And between her and her magician Rhys there is romantic tension so tight it could be played as an instrument.

There isn’t a character in Nyx’s team that I didn’t love by the end; even the ones I wanted to slap.  I love Nyx like family; the type of family I care for but really wouldn’t want to be around and ‘oh, my god, are they in the news again?’  I want to believe she is the good guy in all of this, but in a world of legalized bounties who can be sure?  There passages that let us know she is capable of doing dark work just like people I want to call bad.

If I have to criticize, and human nature says I must, even on reread I am unsure of a couple of plot points; I was a bit shaky on why or how some characters came back into play by the end.  The first time I read it I put it down on me, after all this is not a book that holds your hand.  You are dumped right in and  sink or swim in the details on your own.  But as I still don’t get it perhaps a bit more polish could have made it clearer.

That said, this book was just as good, if not better, on reread.

4 Stars.  On to ‘Infidel.’

Warning!  Do not read any further than this!  If you do you will probably be sorry.  Because you see, once it was in my head I had to work it out as far as I could, and, well you will see the pitiful result.

CUE MUSIC!!

Oh, my, god.  Becky, look at this book.

It is so, different. It looks like one of those grimdark guys dreams

But, you know, who understands those grimdark guys

They only read it because it has a crazy death count, ‘kay?

I mean, her sword, it is so big.

I can’t believe all the bugs, it’s like, out there, I mean –Gross.  Look!

It’s all so, whack.

*Cue bass line*

I like bug-punk and I cannot lie

You other bloggers can’t deny

That when Nyx walks in acting all ace and punches that gal in the face

It’s just, FUN

You love her cause she’s tough

‘and you notice that trunk was stuffed

With a dead body just a red herring

And a bounty you know she be sharing

Oh Hurley, this is how you do romance

Tension but never crass

Others tried to warn me

There’s just so much to this story.

Oh Rhys with smooth skin

You not much of a magician?

But needed, wanted

And so important to Nyx’s bounty team

The team is over their head

But the queen’s bounty will keep them fed

Oh my god this is so hard. Parody song writers, I tip my hat too you.  I give up.  And you can’t say I didn’t warn you.

Urban Fantasy Review: ‘Blackbirds’ by Chuck Wendig

I have decided to finally give Chuck Wendig a chance.  All I knew about him is A. He Blackbirds (Miriam Black, #1)supposedly has a morbid sense of humor and B. his books involve a use of profanity that would make a sailor blush.  As such reading his stuff is a no brainer.  It may shock you all to learn this, but I am a fine connoisseur of creative profanity.  After reading Blackbirds I gotta say, I am not disappointed.  This review could have gone two ways; talk about the book a bit or give a top ten list of the various bouts of cussing.  In the end I chickened out and decided to talk about the book.

Miriam Black is a drifter with a unique gift.  The first time she touches someone she gets a full mental rundown of their death.  Needless to say if you watch exactly how every person you meet dies, and stick around to confirm it a time or a hundred, it makes you quite the jaded soul.  But it has its advantages, especially if you are a loner with no gainful employment.  Catch someone right at their death, but before anyone else knows, and enough cash can be found to get to the next stop. 

The story really starts when Miriam meets a trucker while hitchhiking.  There is a casual touch, Mariam unconsciously works her own special magic, and she learns the man’s death is not only imminent but he seems to be looking at Miriam right before he is brutally murdered.  What follows is a fast ride in which she alternately runs from her perceived fate and participation in this horror, and at times fights against it.  Along the way she meets a smooth talking con man, some truly unique killers, and a hairless drug runner with the most interesting story about his grandma you will ever read.

A bit darker than my usual read (strange to say for a ‘Grimdark’ fan, but being set in a real work makes it more real to me).  I almost certainly would not have liked it much without the running humor.  Some of the gruesome deaths made me cringe, and the complete inhumanity of some of the characters scares me.  But there is a lot of humor, and anytime something happens that made me uncomfortable I felt even more so when I was laughing in the next paragraph.  Consider this a win by the author; humor either hits or falls flat and Wendig is genuinely funny.  As long as you have a slightly juvenile streak like I do.

I was already aware of the debate about Miriam herself that has been going on for since this book was released.  Between here potty mouth and willingness to talk about male anatomy some have called her a female character written with a very male gaze.  Others have pointed out that not all women are creative equal and felt her to be genuine.  I am going to continue to be the brave risk taker I am and fall right in the middle of the debate.  She was entertaining as hell and certainly I have met people like her (I recall a former coworker in particular who liked to shock people unprepared for her style, good times).  At the same time it was hard not to think some of aspects of her character was designed specifically to provide a bit of fan service to male readers; she was the hot slutty girl just waiting to be redeemed by someone awkward; perfectly willing to hitchhike in ‘provocative’ clothing, engage in casual sex, then go drinking all night.

Those seeking answers to every little question will be disappointed.  We never really learn what sparks Mariam’s powers, nor if she is the only one with them.  We get the backstory for some villains, but the least cliché of them remains a mystery.  But the book itself wraps up nicely with no nasty little cliffhangers that force you to immediately go to the next book of the series.  Though, if you are a fan of dark humor and horror aspects you will most likely do anyway.

I am glad I gave the author a try.  Mariam was so entertaining I look forward to visiting her again.  Now if you excuse me, I got some major catching up to in the cussing department.  So far Wendig seems to have me beat

4 stars

 

Fantasy Review: ‘Pantomime’ by Laura Lam

CanPantomime (Pantomime, #1) we get one thing out of the way?  The main character, described as two people on the cover blurb, is actually an intergender teen called Iphigenia by her family and taking the name Micah when he goes out on his own.  This is not a ‘plot twist,’ nor some cheap trick to fool the reader.  It is not a gimmick, nor an incidental fact that has no bearing on the story.  This is Micah’s story, his gender (I will use ‘he’ as the pronoun due to Micah choosing to present as male for most of the story) is the catalyst that drives the story.  Micah’s attempts to define his gender to himself, to understand what it means both physically and within the social bounds, make the core of the story.  It is the thread that ties everything together; it is the reasoning behind so many day to day decisions Micah has to make.  The way it is handled may be the highlight of the book. 

Bouncing between past and present with ease we watch Gene/Micah grow and learn.  Gene chapters focus on a young girl in noble society, hiding a secret but above that giving a good fight against the norms forced on her.  These chapters are full of shame but also love, time spent with a family confused and conflicted.  Contrast with Micah chapters; a young man learning the ropes in the circus.  Seemingly showing more freedom and acceptance; but still confined by his secret.  I could go on and on about Micah’s growth as a character but let’s be honest, others have probably done so and done it much more elegantly.  So let me leave the character study behind and move on to the other elements of the book.

Pantomime is a young adult fantasy first; with all the trim and trappings of the genre.  Being a study of character within a fantasy setting it is not an action book, nor is there any big bad threat to the world at large.  There is a hint that Micah could be more important to the world at large running though, but if that is the case it will have to wait for further volumes.  Instead this is a fantasy completely focused on one character making his way.  This is not an action packed book, though action is present, so it may not appeal to some readers due to a slower pace.  And flashbacks are well known for causing some readers to grind their teeth.  So if either of these things could cause you pause, look for another book.  If you are willing to look past that there are some great things going on.

There is some hidden depths to the seemingly generic fantasy world.  An ancient civilization has left its mark all over the world, most noticeable with glowing glass Penglass littering the landscape.  Also present are old artifacts that still have uses; and these are more relevant to the world we are part of.  For it is these seemingly magical artifacts that give the circus Micah joins much of its sense of wonder, from fog effects to a magical fairy like creature that seems to speak to Micah.  There are many possible ways this could go, I am off a mind that the world is earth of the future, but certainly nothing is given away yet.

The time spent with the circus is fun, but it would be a bad book indeed that managed to not do wonders with a circus in fantasy land.  Learning the secrets of the freak show, flying through the air with the trapeze artists, seeing little details like the skill and dexterity it takes to be a clown; all fun.  While Micah steals the show he is surrounded by quite a cast.  And the threat of a Shadow, a legal bounty hunter of sorts, gives a since of danger to the story throughout.

Really my only nitpicks are actually fears of what may come.  There is a character that shows a fairly dark side yet never seems to give Micah pause.  I hope said characters complacency in a specific act isn’t glossed over going forward.  And it wouldn’t be a fantasy without the main character turning into something of a chosen one, which is fine.  But I am a little worried how there seems to me magic tied to being intersexual; please don’t make all the growth he went through nothing more than a gimmick for super powers.  That could break my heart.

I know Pratchett once said something to the effect that to write YA he doesn’t dumb down the books, he just writes the same story about younger characters.  Valente said she wouldn’t talk down to your child.  Lam has written in this same mold; this book had more depth and was much smarter than many ‘adult’ fantasy novels I have read recently.  Do I have a copy of its sequel sitting around here?  No?  Damn.  Going to have to fix that.

5 Stars

Fantasy Review: ‘Malice’ by John Gwynne

Malice (The Faithful and the Fallen #1)It is a story that epic fantasy fans will fall right into, as comfortable as a favorite shirt.  Signs are starting to show of an ancient prophecy coming to pass; stones bleeding, giants attacking, solar eclipse coming, etc.  A fight between the gods is coming.  There will be war.  There will be clashes between kings.  There will be a chosen one, or maybe chosen ones as each side picks their own (The Bright Star and the Black Sun of prophesy).  Comparisons to the big hitters of the genre are impossible to pass up; but hey, no one person owns the right to the title of ‘Kingslayer.”  And as long as Gwynne doesn’t kill off that big lovable pup I am cool with its inclusion.

A good book, and after a sluggish start one I ended up enjoying quite a bit.  And in some ways this is surprising because throughout the entire story I don’t think I was ever surprised, never felt fear for a character, never felt that a shock was coming around the corner.  In fact the most subversive part of the story, that of a chosen one’s rise in power taking on a darker path, was so transparent I saw where it was going long before it felt like I was supposed to.  Has subversion become the new norm?  Was the story really that transparent or is it only because I read so much from the genre that I noticed?  Did I just drop a major spoiler and not even realize it?

It doesn’t matter much to me because as I said, this was a good, comfortable book.  Multiple point of view characters, and surprise, all were fairly entertaining.  A nice mix in them as well.  Corban is obviously working his way into being a major player in the story, and his training (while perhaps a bit too easy for him) is a nice school like story that doesn’t feel like another world from the rest of the group’s story.  On the other hand the point of view of Veradis is one of a person watching a major power growing; the prince he guards has no point of view chapters of his own, and I felt it worked well to watch the story from his side rather than read his thoughts.

It was the prince that Veradis guards, Naithar, that really shines.  It was his story that I wanted to read more about.  Yet, it was his story I referenced earlier as holding no suprises, and I stand by my statements.  Early dropping of phrases like ‘the greater good’ told me exactly where his story line was going, and I never guessed wrong.  But I still was entertained by it, it was by and large very enjoyable.  Proof again that innovation alone does not a great story make; old ideas in the hands of a skilled writer can still be incredibly entertaining.

Throw in some entertaining battles, complete with giants and some snake like dragons (wyrms, whatever they are called).  Add a great character people call a witch, a fiery knife throwing young girl that deserved WAY more page time (but seems set up for a nice role in the future), and some interesting back history (this land has a deity that walked away from the world after the last battle) and I think the book is a winner on the whole.   As long as the reader isn’t expecting anything genre bending it probably won’t disappoint.

A few minor quibbles.  The first third seemed to be a different book, not just in the typical ‘set up a trilogy with tons of info’ way, but just choppier in general.  I also wouldn’t mind someone else rereading this and letting me know if it passed the Bechdel test, I didn’t really track it but I am leaning toward no.  As much as I liked the two major female characters I can’t really remember them interacting with anyone other than the men who acted as bigger players.  They were nice characters but needed more page time.

There it is, a more negative review than I intended to write for a story I enjoyed.  Perhaps I have had a run of debut epic fantasy sour me a bit, causing me to be a bit jaded and taking it out on poor Gwynne.  Because, and I want to reiterate this, I enjoyed Malice.  Recommend it even.  Just don’t want mis-sell it as something it isn’t.  This is a good, solid, comfort read.  Nothing less and nothing more.

4 Stars.

Review copy provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Small Spoiler.  ‘ Naithar’s story is what Anikan Skywalker’s story SHOULD have looked like in the prequels.  A rise toward the dark power of the land while thinking the entire time you are the good one.  Good stuff, just wish it had caught me off guard.  ‘