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Peter Grant is a probationary constable with the London police. He wants to be a detective one day, but his superiors see his future to lie in the realms of data entry - desk support for the coppers out on the street so they don't drown in paper work. Then, one night as he's standing guard on a crime scene, a witness comes forward with an account of the murder - the only problem is that Grant can't do anything with the information, because his witness is a ghost.

Thus begins Rivers of London, the first volume of Ben Aaronovitch's urban fantasy detective series. As is the common conceit in this subgenre, there is a secret branch of the police tasked with the investigation of crimes with a supernatural aspect - though the wrinkle here is that, in the belief that science is making the notion of having sorcerers on the police force obsolete, there's only one active member of the supernatural investigations unit, Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, and he's not welcomed by other senior investigators when he shows up.

But after he sees the ghost witness, Grant is approached by Nightingale and invited to become his apprentice, and the first new member of the supernatural investigations unit in a vey long time. Rivers of London is the story of Grant's first experiences with the magical and mystical side of police work, and his early days as an apprentice sorcerer.

As using magic seems to do things like short out modern technology, Grant is forced to turn to a colleague and friend, Constable Lesley May, for access to regular sources of information such as surveillance footage and police databases. May seems to take Grant's entry into the world of sorcery in stride, so much so that she's more or less acknowledged by her governor (Britcop speak for senior officer) as a liaison to the sorcery unit.

One thing I liked very much about Rivers of London that I don't always find in detective stories, fantasy or mundane, set in London is an acknowledgement of the multiracial makeup of the city. Grant himself is of mixed racial background, and in a marvellous comment on the ways that generations of immigration from former colonial holdings have changed the city, the current physical vessel of the spirit of Mother Thames is a black woman who understands her metaphysical circumstances within the framework of West African religious tradition.

I also enjoyed the way that Aaronovitch makes use of the history of London, from its early days as a Roman camp to the founding of the Bow Street Runners, weaving small threads from the enormous tapestry that is the two-thousand year story of London into the narrative.

In fact, I enjoyed Rivers of London and am rather intrigued to see where the next volume takes Peter Grant, and us.

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A Local Habitation is the second of Seanan McGuire's novels featuring October Daye - Toby to those who know her well - changeling, private investigator, and knight of Faerie.

In this installment, she is called upon by her liege lord Count Sylvester to investigate a potential problem in the small faerie realm of Tamed Lightning, a buffer state between her lord's domain and that of a rival, the Countess Riordan. The
Countess of Tamed Lightning is Sylvester's niece, January O'Leary, with whom he is normally in close contact, but he hasn't heard from her in weeks, his messages have gone unanswered, and he's worried.

What Toby finds is a terrible mystery almost beyond her abilities to solve. Something has been disrupting communications between Tamed Lightning and Sylvester's lands - January has heard nothing from him, received no messages, and suspects treachery. Worse, death is stalking Tamed Lightning's grounds. The County is anchored on January's computer programming company, and employees - all either pureblood fae or changelings - are being murdered. Worse, they have been killed in such a way that the night-haunts, fae responsible for removing the bodies of dead fae and replacing them with undetectable imitations that will pass as human to police, medical examiners and other humans who deal with the dead, refuse to take their bodies. And Toby, whose gifts involve the ability to read memories from blood, even the blood of the dead, can see nothing in the blood of these victims.

I'm coming to enjoy these urban fantasies. The complexity of mythologies, the intricacies of fae traditions and politics, and the dogged perseverance of Toby herself, who fights on against all odds, in a world where her changeling nature limits what she can do in either world, human or faerie, but manages, just barely, to do what has to be done.

Her victories often cone too hard, at too great a cost, and too late to be truly called successes, and that's a big part of what I like. She's a flawed hero who tries but fails as much as she succeeds - but still keeps trying.

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Rosemary and Rue, the first of Seanan McGuire's October Daye urban fantasy novels, starts off in a manner most uncharacteristic of the genre. Toby Daye, private investigator and half-fae changling, is tailing a fae lord suspected of kidnapping his brother's wife and daughter when she is caught and transformed into a koi. She spends the next 14 years swimming in a pond, her selfhood submerged in the limited mind of a fish.

Unlike many urban fantasy protagonists, Toby Daye doesn't always get away safely. That was the first thing that caught my attention and made me think this might be a cut above the masses of urban fantasy series on the market these days. Then there was the fact that rather than bouncing back ready to avenge her losses - years of her life, a relationship with a lover and a child who believe she abandoned them and want nothing to do with her, a sidhe mother who was slowly losing her mind when the transformation took place and is beyond reach by the time Toby breaks free of enchantment - she withdraws, repudiates everything of her former life, shows all the signs of PTSD you would expect from such an assault, such losses.

And then one of the Sidhe nobility, Evelyn Winters, also known as Evening Winterrose, Countess of Goldengreen someone Toby has known all her life, is murdered by cold iron, and her last act is to bind Toby with an ancient curse to stop at nothing to find her murderer.

The complexity of October Daye's world, encompassing faerie beings from multiple cultures, changelings, kingdoms anchored to the world but not wholly in it, and the politics of all these levels is fascinating, and watching Toby navigate all these realms - while still living in the world and dealing with jobs and rent and the human relationships severed when she was imprisoned in the body of a fish - is enough to engage the reader's interest. Add in the mystery of Evening's murder and the twists and turns of Toby's investigation, and you have a roaring good read.

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I wasn't sure what to expect from Paul Cornell's Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? - I knew it was the third in a series, and I don't usually like to jump into a series midstream, but it had received several recommendations as a potential Hugo nominee, and I do have a thing for Holmesiana, so I gave it a shot.

And discovered that this was definitely one of those situations where not reading the previous books affected my appreciation of the story and my understanding of the characters and their motivations.

The premise of the series, as I understand it from this text, is that there is an "occult London," a layer of London society where people with powers and/or access to magical items go about doing all sorts of occult things, including committing crimes, and solving them. The protagonists are members of the branch of the London police who investigate occult crimes.

Several of these people have been involved in traumatic and in some cases still on-going events that influence their actions and create sub-plots as they go about solving the current crime. And overshadowing everything are the reverberations of a catastrophic event, the memory of which has been erased from the minds of everyone connected, that has thrown the hidden London into disarray.

The current crime, unfolding on both mundane and occult levels, is indeed the murder of Sherlock Holmes. In the mundane world, someone is killing people who have, at some point in their lives, portrayed Holmes - and more, they are being killed in locations and manners very similar to murder cases from the canon set in London. At the same time, the detectives from the occult branch gifted with Sight have witnessed the apparent murder of a "ghost" of Holmes, and all their evidence suggests that these crimes are not only linked, but are part of a ritual that may result in massive consequences for London on all levels. And so, the game is afoot.

I enjoyed the Sherlockian aspects of the story, but at least initially, did not identify with the characters or their overall situations. Perhaps if I'd read the other volumes first my reaction would have been different.

The characters did grow on me as I read further, and I was happy to see what degree of resolution was achieved, but I've little inclination to go back and read the previous books, or to continue with the series.

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I very much wanted to like Daniel José Older's first novel, the urban fantasy Half-Resurrection Blues, but while I did enjoy it after I finally "got into it," it never really gelled for me.

Part of this may be that I am very, very picky about urban fantasy. I've read at least the first book in a fair number of urban fantasy series, but the only ones I can really say I loved are the Blood Ties novels by Tanya Huff, the OSI Special Investigations novels by Jes Battis, and some of Mercedes Lackey's urban elves and guardians and suchlike fantasy series (my favourite being the Diana Tregarde Mysteries). I've liked a few other series very much - notably those by Tate Hallaway, Marjorie Liu, Kevin Hearne and Katharine Kerr - and the older, pre-formula urban fantasies by Gael Baudino (Gossamer Axe) and R. A. MacAvoy (Tea with the Black Dragon) are among my favourite fantasy books. But in a standard urban fantasy, there are certain buttons that it seems I need to have pushed, and Half-Resurrection Blues just doesn't push them.

Don't get me wrong. It's a well-written novel, the supernatural elements are interesting and well-thought-out, the characters are interesting, the plot is tight and moves along with a good building momentum. And the novel bubbles over with diversity, and that is a very, very good thing. But I think what made it hard for me to really get into was how much of a "boy's life" kind of story it was, and the way that Sasha, the one major female character - who could really have been amazing - is seen exclusively through the male gaze of the protagonist, Carlos. We see her mostly as an object of his curiosity - they are both "halfies" or Inbetweeners," people who were dead but have been partly resurrected, and she is one of the very few other halfies Carlos has ever heard of - then his sexual interest, then his mission objective, but we never learn why he falls in love with her, or indeed, much about her at all.

So... While a good read, it just missed the cut for being a great read by my criteria. Others may well enjoy the novel more than I did.

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There's not a great deal to be remarked on about Jim Butcher's Skin Game. It's urban fantasy with lots of action, and a very complicated con/heist/doublecross plot that involves our wizardly hero Harry Dresden, assorted ancient and nasty enemies, his liege lady Mab, The Queen of Air and Darkness, Hades, God of the Underworld, and a plan to steal the Holy Grail from the most secure vault in the Harryverse.

I haven't read any of the previous Dresden Files novels, although I've sort of wanted to check out the series because I watched and enjoyed the short-lived TV show based on the character. So a lot of the backstory that presumably motivated the various good, evil, and ambiguously aligned characters was missing for me. And after 15 novels, there was a lot of history between most of the characters, as this seemed to be one of those novels that brings back all of your favourite guest stars to stir things up between them. I probably missed out on a lot that might have made the book more emotionally gratifying by being a complete stranger to the series, but that's one of the risks of nominating the 16th volume in a series for a major award.

Harry himself seems to be modeled after the classic film noir hard-boiled detective, except that as a first person POV narrator of that particular stripe, he's not really jaded enough, and he rambles on rather a lot.

As a casual read, Skin Game was reasonably enjoyable, and I still might go read a few of the earlier novels when I'm in the mood for frivolous magic and mayhem - but I must say that while reading this, I found myself comparing it with the Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne, another urban fantasy with a male protagonist with which it shares certain types and tropes, and thinking that it did not quite measure up.

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Deep under the city, there's a place called Safe. A place for Freaks, Sicks. Beasts. But it's built on a lie, and it will be torn down by the lie and the person the lie was told about. And eventually it will be rebuilt by the truth, and the one who learns that you can't save everyone, sometimes not even yourself - but you can tell your own truths, and listen to the truths of others.

Matthew was born in Safe. His parents are dead, and he is being raised by Atticus, one of the founders of Safe, to be the community's new Teller - the communal memory, the person who learns and remembers and recites the tales of all the other members. The only tale he does not know is the tale of Corner, the other founder, who was exiled from the community and is now feared as an enemy who may return. Oh, he knows what Atticus has said about Corner, but he does not ubderstand intil the end that what he has been told is a lie. When Corner's Shadows invade and destroy Safe, Matthew and other survivors flee to seek refuge with helpers - so-called normal people who know about Safe but who live Above. Matthew, as Teller and as the apparent heir to Atticus, feels it is his responsibility to find and protect the other survivors, especially a very damaged young woman named Ariel, and to rebuild Safe.

It might be a coming of age YA novel, but then again, it might be a lot more than that

This might be a parable, about what happens to The Other - the one who isn't normal enough to be part of the world Above, who is pushed into the darkness because of issues of colour, or gender, or disability, or mental illness, or - because this is science fiction - mutancy. And about how the Other comes to see and interact with the world that casts them into darkness. And how the cycles of causing pain, and learning fear and hate, that bind both the Other and the ones who cast the Other out can be - no, not broken, it's never that easy - cracked a little by finding and telling and sharing truths about each other.

It's certainly a very complex book that looks at many difficult issues. As Brit Mandelo says in her review of the novel for tor.com:
Above is a book with sharp edges. Bobet casts a critical and incisive eye on her characters’ fears, failings, wants, needs—and what they are capable of, for better or worse. Above also deals intimately and wrenchingly with mental illness, the ways that we treat people who we deem Other in our society, the complexities of truth-telling, and what makes right or wrong. Issues of gender, race, abuse, and sexuality are also prevalent in this world of outcasts, both literally and metaphorically. (http://www.tor.com/blogs/2012/04/telling-tales-above-by-leah-bobet)
I enjoyed this book very much, and am looking forward to more from Bobet.



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It seems that there has been a recent rebirth of the novella. I've been finding all sorts of books that are collections of three or four novella-length pieces - most of them in the urban fantasy and paranormal romance categories. Also, some publishing houses, notably Subterranean Press and Aquaduct Press, have been publishing a number of works in the novella to short novel range. And one finds novella-length pieces on various author and magazine websites all over the net. In the list below of novellas I've devoured this past year, if a novella was not acquired as a standalone publication (paper or edoc), I've tried to indicate the name of the book, or website I found it in/on.

As for the novellas themselves, there's quite a range. Many of the urban fantasy/paranormal romance novellas are much of a muchness. I was delighted to find a novella by Michelle Sagara set in her Cast universe, and found the novellas by Yasmine Galenorn and C. E. Murphy interesting enough that I intend to explore their novels.

On the other hand, I was very excited to read more tales set in Elizabeth Bear's New Amsterdam - Abigail Irene Garrett is a character I am very fond of. The same is true of the late and much lamented Kage Baker's steampunk sequence of novellas associated with her Company books. And I do like Diana Gabaldon's Lord John sequence of novels and novellas. And my devouring of Margaret Frazer's published oeuvre would not have been complete without the domina Frevisse novella.

Marjorie M. Liu, The Tangleroot Palace (Never After)
Marjorie M. Liu, Armor of Roses (Inked)
Marjorie M. Liu, Hunter Kiss (Wild Thing)

Yasmine Galenorn, The Shadow of Mist (Never After)
Yasmine Galenorn, Etched in Silver (Inked)

Mercedes Lackey, A Tangled Web (Harvest Moon)
Mercedes Lackey, Moontide (Winter Moon)
Mercedes Lackey, Counting Crows (Charmed Destinies)

Rachel Lee, Drusilla's Dream (Charmed Destinies)
Catherine Asaro, Moonglow (Charmed Destinies)
Michelle Sagara West, Cast in Moonlight (Harvest Moon) 
Cameron Haley, Retribution (Harvest Moon)
Karen Chance, Skin Deep (Inked)
Eileen Wilkes, Human Nature (Inked)
Maggie Shayne, Animal Magnetism (Wild Thing)
Meljean Brook, Paradise (Wild Thing)
Tanith Lee, Heart of the Moon (Winter Moon)
C. E. Murphy, Banshee Cries (Winter Moon)
Sharon Shinn, The Wrong Bridegroom (Never After)

Elizabeth Bear, In the House of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns (Asimov's)
Elizabeth Bear, Seven For A Secret
Elizabeth Bear, The White City
Elizabeth Bear, Ad Eternum

Diana Gabaldon, Lord John and the Succubus (via author's website)
Diana Gabaldon, Lord John and the Haunted Soldier (via author's website)
Diana Gabaldon, The Custom of the Army (via author's website)
Diana Gabaldon, Lord John and the Plague of Zombies (via author's website)

Margaret Frazer, Winter Heart (Smashwords)

Kage Baker, Rude Mechanicals
Kage Baker, Nell Gwynne's On Land and At Sea
Kage Baker, Speed, Speed the Cable

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It's always a joy to find a new author whose work intrigues, delights, entertains, or amuses. This year, new authors (and the books that called to me) included:

J. M. Frey, Triptych

Frey's debut novel knocked my socks off. Well written, with characters that come alive, a riveting plot told in an original way, and a careful exploration of gender, race and cultural integration. Loved it.


David Anthony Durham, Acacia: The War with the Mein

First volume of a series that I will definitely have to finish, a sweeping epic of empires and prophesies, politics and war.


N. K. Jemisin, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Jemisen's book is another superior entry in the genre of epic fantasy, all the more so because of her highly original style and approach to the matter of moribund empires and supernatural forces that form the basic framework of such novels. Again, a series that I'm looking forward to finishing.


Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins, Catching Fire
Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay

And how could I not read the YA sensation that everyone else and her cat is reading? Enjoyable if somewhat derivative of many books that have gone before it. The author does well at giving Katniss a true and consistent voice.


Malinda Lo, Ash
Malinda Lo, Huntress

Both of Lo's YA fantasies have been long-listed for James Tipree Jr. Awards, which is always in my mind a formidable argument for checking out a new book. In these books, Lo creates a high fantasy world of humans, elves, ghosts and assorted things that go bump in the night, where her characters can find their own destinies, seking adve ture while challenging gender roles and sexual identities. More, please, Ms. Lo.

Nalini Singh, Angel’s Blood
Nalini Singh, Archangel’s Kiss
Nalini Singh, Archangel’s Consort
Nalini Singh, Archangel’s Blade
Nalini Singh, Angel’s Flight

Singh's books are my newest guilty pleasures. There's actually a lot I don't like about these books, including some very questionable gender isues abd waaaay too much not very original sex. I hate the plot about the spunky woman and the arrogant man who hate each other on sight until he beats her up and then they have mind-blowing sex and stay together despite the fact that he never really repects her as an equal. And these novels are full of that kind of shit. But there's also a very interesting world to explore here, with humans being governed and controlled by powerful winged beings called angels, even though they pretty much lack any compassion or other such angelic qualities, and their servants, the vampires, who are humans infused with a special angelic secretion. It's very much a 'red in tooth and fang' kind of world, with naked power plays all over the place, and that's the bit that fascinates me. So I read them and love to hate them.


Nathan Long, Jane Carver of Waar

And this book, which already has a sequel on the way, is just plain fun. A John Carter of Mars scenario turned upside down, Jane Carver is a biker chick on the lam after accidentally killing a guy who was harrassing her. She finds a secret cave, is transported to a distant low-gravity planet, and the typical Barsoomian-style adventures ensue. Burroughs fans who don't mind gender-bending should love this. Goreans will cringe. And that's a good thing.


Kameron Hurley, Brutal Women

This collection of science fictional short stories by the author of the Bel Dame Apocrypha (a series that I now know I must read) is certainly well-named. Not for the faint of heart, these stories explore women (and other beings of other genders) in the midst of violence - physical, emptional, psychological - and their reactions to such environments. Worth reading and thinking about.

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This year I read the final volumes in some series I had enjoyed: Jes Battis' interesting and original urban fantasies featuring Occult Special Investigator Tess Corday; the Vampire Princess of St. Paul series, a young adult urban fantasy about witches and vampires in the twin cities, by Tate Hallaway aka Lyda Morehouse; and the angels of Samaria series by Sharon Shinn.

While these series did come to conclusions that seemed appropriate, I rather hope that I'll see Tess Corday again, and I do want to see what lies in the future of the first Vampire Queen.


Jes Battis, Bleeding Out

Tate Hallaway, Almost Final Curtain
Tate Hallaway, Almost Everything

Sharon Shinn, Angel-seeker
Sharon Shinn, Angelica

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Jes Battis, Infernal Affairs

Occult Special Investigator Tess Corday finds herself and her team faced with an unusual case - dispatched to diplomatically retrieve the body of a child demon from the hands of the regular police system before an autopsy raises questions about the victim, Corday and her associates arrive jut in time to see the body revive as the coroner is just beginning his examination of the presumed corpse, and to fend off the attack of a powerful demon who appears determined to see that the resurrected demon child goes back to being quite dead.

Unravelling the mystery and ensuring the safety of the your demon will not only call on all the powers of Corday, her allies, and CORE, but also bring her closer to her own hidden past and the identity of her demon father.

Occult police procedurals are fun. What more can I say?

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The genre of fantasy is rapidly subdividing these days, and I'm not entirely certain what the distinctions are any more. I am sticking with urban fantasy as something that ha
a definition of urban fantasy as something that involves humans interacting with non-humans (vampires, demons, werewolves, elves, whatever) and the use of magic or psychic powers virtually indistinguishable from magic, in an urban setting that is directly based on real world settings (modern-day Toronto or Chicago or whatever). It may involve crimes or mysteries, or it may involve supernatural romance. Or both. I"m not all that fussy.


Jes Battis, Inhuman Resources

Battis' OSI series has held my interest through three volumes to date, and I have the fourth in my TBR pile. The premise is that there is an investigative force, CORE, complete with Occult Special Investigators, that is charged with the responsibility of dealing with all sorts of non-human and occult communities (vampires, necromancers, sorcerers, and so on) secretly co-existing with "normate" human society, investigating crimes involving members of these communities, and keeping the whole business quiet so those ordinary humans can never know. The stories focus on OSI Tess Corday, a woman of mixed heritage (and by that I mean human and demon) and her investigative partner (and roommate) Derrick Siegel. Together they solve crimes! - with the aid of an interesting collection of supporting characters, of course. But behind the episodic nature of the occult crime procedural is a sweeping arc that has to do with Tess' demon heritage.


Katharine Kerr, Licence to Ensorcell

With her lengthy Deverry Cycle epic fantasy series completed, Kerr has decided to explore the urban fantasy/paranormal romance genre, and in my opinion she quite nails it with this first volume in the new Nola O'Grady series. O'Grady is a an operative with a secret agenct whose mandate you can probably figure out right away, and her new case is to find a serial killer targeting werewolves. It's personal - O'Grady's brother was one of the victims. Her partner on the case is a hard-boiled Isreali operative, assigned to work with her because the serial killer has claimed victims in both Israel and the US. I like this new series, and the next volume is in my infamous TBR pile.


J. A. Pitts, Black Blade Blues

This is a first novel from author J. A. Pitts, and there is some roughness to it, but the premise - a lesbian blacksmith who moonlights as a props manager and is part of a medieval reenactment society - was not the sort of thing I could resist. And there are dragons! To continue the refrain, the next volume is in my TBR pile.


Kevin Hearne, Hounded

Another first novel, and a very fine one too. But how could I resist a novel about the last of the Druids, currently living in Arizona under the unlikely name of Atticus O’Sullivan. The rest of the cast of characters includes his Irish wolfhound, a werewolf and a vampire who happen to be his lawyers, several Celtic deities, the spirit of an ancient Hindu sorceress and a coven of witches. And it's funny too - Hearne has a pleasantly dry wit that is well integrated into the style and storytelling. The next volumes is... oh, you know where it is.


Tate Hallaway, Almost to Die For

You, constant reader, already know that I think very highly of Lyda Morehouse's work, and of course you are aware that Tate Hallaway is the name Morehouse uses for her contemporary supernatural urban romance fantasy work (did I cover all the bases there?). This is the first volume in a new YA series about a teenaged girl whose father happens to be the leader of the vampires in her city, and by vampire tradition, that makes her his heir. I liked it, and... you guessed it, the next volume is in my TBR pile.


Tate Hallaway, Honeymoon of the Dead

And, to balance all these new series, this is the last volume in Morehouse/Hallaway's Garnet Lacey series. Garnet and her vampire lover Sebastian von Traum are finally married - but Garnet's past gets in the way of their planned honeymoon in Transylvania. A good ending to an enjoyable series. No more volumes to put in my TBR file. Sniff.

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Unrecorded urban fantasy books from 2009:


A Flash of Hex, Jes Battis - The second in Battis' urban fantasy series set in Vancouver and focusing on the exploits of paranormal forensics investigator Tess Corday it continues the story, gives us more information about Corday herself and about the relationships between the various supernatural communities, and tells a decent police procedural mystery. I'm enjoying the series.


Norse Code, Greg van Eekhout - satisfying debut that provides a modern, urban version of Ragnarok. I recommend this to fantasy fans who are looking for an infusion of Norse-influenced myth.


Camileon, Shykia Bell - I am not happy when I find it impossible to say much that is positive about a book, but alas, writing about this book is not a happy experience, any more than reading it was. Hackneyed and poorly written, with a far-too-predictable storyline, I'm afraid I can;t recommend this to anyone for any reason.

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Opening note: I love MacAvoy's work. Hence these two books are marvellous in my eyes and well worth the reading.


Twisting the Rope, R. A. MacAvoy

The sequel to MacAvoy's masterpiece, Tea with the Black Dragon,, this continues the story of Celtic folk musician Martha MacNamara and ancient dragon in human form Mayland Long. These two books are really some of the finest urban fantasy ever written, from a point in the development of the genre when nothing had become codified.



Lens of the World, R. A. MacAvoy

The first volume of one of MacAvoy's less well-known works, set in a refreshingly original pre-industrial society, it is, like many of MacAvoy's works, relatively slender but packed with great characters. engaging narrative and fine detail. I know this is all very vague, but MacAvoy is hard to describe because her work is deceptively simple and astoundingly complex at the same time. She approaches what would in another writer's hands be commonplace stories and themes, but gives them such a fresh perspective and such a wealth of undertones... oh hell, I loved the book. If you enjoy MacAvoy and haven;t read it yet, I recommend that you remedy this oversight as quickly as possible.

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Patricia Briggs:
Moon Called
Blood Bound


Moon Called and Blood Bound are the first two novels in Patricia Briggs’ urban fantasy series featuring Mercedes (Mercy) Thompson, a not-quite-human auto mechanic raised by werewolves. She herself is a shapeshifter, but of a kind known in indigenous North American traditions, not European ones – a skinwalker. Her animal shape is that of a coyote, she doesn’t have the great strength of the werewolf but she is not bound by the moon, is faster than ordinary humans, is resistant to certain kinds of magic and can see and talk to ghosts.

In Mercy Thompson’s world, the supernatural beings – fae, werewolves, vampires and others – are in the process of revealing themselves to ordinary humankind, because it is becoming harder and harder to keep their existence a secret. At the beginning of the series, only the lesser fae have done this, but other kinds of non-humans are dealing with the question of how to respond to the increasing problems they are having in remaining undetected, and what changes may be necessary to old habits and traditions in either keeping hidden for now, or in revealing themselves without sparking fear and potential retaliation from humans.

There’s a lot of neat things to commend the series, but there’s also one huge thing that is potentially poison – Mercy gets very close to both werewolves and vampires, in a way that I find just a little too reminiscent of the early Anita Blake books, although with much less actual sex. However, there is a fair amount of focus on dominance issues, the Alpha wolf of the local community declaring Mercy to be his mate at least in name, and how that affects her relationship with his pack, the politics of the local vampire community (Briggs uses the nomenclature “seethe” for a group of vampires related by loyalty to one master), the relationships between pack and were, her friendship with one of the more powerful local vampires, all of the things that made Hamilton’s books interesting at first and then made them intolerable once she’d gone too far with it all.

So far, Briggs is avoiding the pitfalls, and I’m enjoying the series quite a lot, but I’m reading with caution.
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The Iron Hunt, Marjorie Liu

I'm picky about my urban fantasy. First of all, I tend to prefer what I think of as first wave (such as Diana Paxson's Brisingamen, Emma Bull's The War of the Oaks, R. A. MacAvoy's Tea with the Black Dragon) and second wave urban fantasy (Lackey's Diana Tregarde, SERRAted Edge and Bedlam's Bard series, Tanya Huff's Victory Nelson and Keeper series) to the overwhelming flood of BTVS-influenced urban fantasy that I think of as third wave urban fantasy.

The Iron Hunt is squarely within the parameters of third wave urban fantasy, but it is not exactly a typical third wave urban fantasy, and its protagonist, Maxine Kiss, is not exactly a typical third wave urban fantasy heroine.

Yes, there’s the trope of the Chosen One who gains her powers only when the previous Chosen One dies – made more emotionally fraught here by making the role of Chosen One - in this case, the Hunter – hereditary, passed from mother to daughter down through the millenia.

And there is a somewhat overcomplicated and yet at the same time familiar back story about an ancient war between evil powers – in this case, demons – and the forces of good who manage to lock away the evil, at least for a while, and then create guardians to defend humanity against demons whose influence can still extend beyond their confines, in the shape of humans possessed and turned into zombies.

And of course, the seals are weakening and something resembling Armageddon or Ragnarok hovers on the horizon and unexpected allies begin to gather around Maxine, who may be the last Hunter and who is naturally special, different in some way from Hunters who have gone before.

But despite the elements of the formula, there are also some striking new twists and interesting questions that remain unanswered at the end of this, the first volume of a series. It’s enough that I’ll be looking for the next volume.

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The Dyke and the Dybbuk, Ellen Galford

I’m somewhat at a loss to describe this book, other than to say that it’s a hilarious and brilliant feminist romp through Orthodox Judaic tradition and contemporary British lesbian culture. The title characters – Rainbow Rosenblum, London taxi-driver, alternative press film critic, and unmarried niece in a family full of matchmaking aunts; and Kokos, a dybbuk recently freed by a stroke of lightning from the tree she was sealed inside for two hundred years by the incantations of a famous rabbi – are brought together because it is Kokos’ long-delayed assignment to fulfil a curse on Rainbow’s maternal line onto the 33rd generation, something she must carry out or face downsizing in a truly disturbing corporate version of Hell.

It’s really, really funny. Really. Funny.

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Of Darkness, Light and Fire is an an omnibus volume containing two of Huff’s early novels, both of which I've read before, and both of which I was delighted to read again.

Gate of Darkness Circle of Light

As i think I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been a devoted fan of Tanya Huff’s work since her very first published novel. I read this novel shortly after it was published, and loved it then, and I still love it now that I’ve read it again.

These days, when people talk about urban fantasy, what they mostly seem to mean is novels with urban settings about kick-ass protagonists, primarily women, who hunt down magical or supernatural nasties, usually with the help of a friendly vampire or werewolf or whatnot (unless we're talking YA urban fantasy, where the protagonist is having an angst-ridden adolescent romance with the vampire, werewolf or whatnot). There’s certainly nothing wrong with that – after all, Huff was one of the pioneers of that particular subgenre, with the Victory Nelson series. But the urban fantasy that I remember fondly and don't see quite as often as I'd like to is the kind that started a bit earlier, with books like Diana Paxton’s Brisingamen and Emma Bull’s War of the Oaks – and Tanya Huff’s Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light.

Books where the formula isn’t set yet, and the group of people who come together to fight the darkness may well be special, even supernatural (after all, the assembled warriors of light here include a street musician who, all unbeknownst to himself, is two-thirds of the way to becoming a true Bard, three women - a bag lady, a frazzled social services caseworker, and her mentally challenged client who works in a doughnut shop - who are, at times, avatars of the triple goddess, and an Adept of light, who might be called in other frames of reference an angel) but what gives them the edge to win is the basic human virtues of love in the face of despair, courage in the face of fear. Because it’s their humanity that saves the world, the rest just makes it a little easier to get there. This is a beautiful story about daring to do what is right, even when you have no idea how you're going to make it happen, and fear that tyhe sacrifice may be all you have to give.

The Fire’s Stone

Another early Huff novel, The Fire’s Stone is a wonderful coming-of-age magequest romance and political intrigue story – and yes, putting all of those elements together in one story just makes it stronger.

Huff has always had the gift of creating characters that are multi-dimensional and interesting. The Fire’s Stone brings together Chandra, a 16 year old princess who has the gift to become a powerful wizard; Darvish, the dissolute third son of a king to whom Chandra has been betrothed, and Aaron, master thief with a death wish. Their quest is to save Darvish’s homeland from total destruction after the theft of a magical artefact threatens to unleash the power of the sacred volcano in the heart of the capital city. Along the way, the three manage to heal each other of old and very deep wounds, and forge a most unexpected and unusual relationship.

Another great early story from a master of the fantasy genre.

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Minion, L. A. Banks

I must confess to being deeply disappointed by this book. So much of today's urban fantasy is being written by white women, about white heroines, that I really wanted to enjoy an urban fantasy about a black heroine, by a black writer.

Unfortunately, I found Minion to be overly derivative, unnecessarily complicated, slow-moving and poorly plotted, and, what I actually found most jarring of all, annoyingly inaccurate in its attempts to give the ornate edifice of its mythology an occult underpinning.

See, there are master Vampires who occupy the seventh level of Hell, and lesser vampires who hang around in the lower levels, except when they hang out on earth (at one point, I thought someone was describing a D&D adventure), and there are only so many lines, one for each continent. And then there's the Guardians, who are empowered by all the lovely forces of light, and come in all the rainbow colours of the races and faiths of the earth, and there are always 144,000 of them (a tribute to the original 12 tribes, but whether that's for the 12 Tribes of Israel or for some idea about 12 tribes of humanity I'm not sure) and they protect sacred texts and do good deeds and fight vampires and other nasties and whenever a super-duper vampire slayer is about to be born, they try to find him or her (at least there's some gender parity here) and protect and teach the slayer until he or she is ready to complete the change and kick mega-vampire ass.

But this time, Damali Richards, the slayer, or Neteru, is a super special "millennium bridge" female, who was conceived in one millennium and will come to power in another. To make her even more special, her father was a cleric who hunted vampires until he was seduced and turned by one, and her mother was touched but not turned by the same vamp while pregnant with Damali. And there's some other stuff having to do with mystical triangles in the sky that haven't been seen for 3,000 years and the slayer's mama having been an innocent who unknowingly cast a revenge spell over the buried coffin of a master vampire who then supernaturally mated with the vengeance demon to create a new breed of super special demonised vampires that are now running loose and killing both the guardians surrounding Damali and the family and "business associates" of her childhood boyfriend and gangland leader Carlos, who now owns a major night club and runs drugs and a prostitution ring.

Oh, and Fallon Nuit, the master vampire who killed her daddy, is trying to seduce Damali in her dreams, because a Neteru can somehow, if properly seduced by a vampire at just the right time when she's begun to mature but hasn't come fully into her power, become pregnant with a daywalker, a vampire who is invulnerable to light. Naturally Damali hasn't told any of her teacher/guide/protector/fellow warriors of light about this, in part because her mentor hasn't told her that all the master vampires within psychic range of her would be compelled to do this, even one the time to try and get her pregnant is passed, because a mature Neteru gives off psychic pheromones that make vamps of the opposite sex go crazy trying to turn him/her... and maybe I should just stop now, even though I haven't even got to the point where the rogue master vamp Fallon Nuit owns one of the biggest urban music recording and promoting companies in the world and he's planning simultaneous concerts in five cities that will form a pentagram over the world and... do something creepy, I'm sure.

Now I'll admit that mob and gang-related crime is not something I tend to enjoy reading, and Banks situates the war between the vampires and the Warriors of Light in the interface between producers and creators of urban music and performance art and various gangs based on ethnic membership (black, Latino, Asian and Russian gangs are referenced at various points, and many of them work for Fallon Nuit). Hell, I didn't even enjoy Mario Puzo's The Godfather, one of the classics of the criminal association genre. So I start out struggling with the setting. But I could have dealt with that.

However, Banks has taken bits and pieces from almost every variation on the vampire story that I know of, from European, Chinese and African folk traditions though the early literary imaginings such as Dracula and Lord Ruthven, to modern media treatments from Anne Rice to Buffy, many of them not ordinarily compatible, and shoved them together with some strange mixture of Christian and New Age spiritualism (and some very dicey astrology), and tried to make a coherent mythos. It doesn't work, and it's way too complicated to permit the suspension of disbelief, For me anyway. Come to think of it, it's not all that crazier than the Book of Revelations, and lots of people manage to suspend reason as well as disbelief long enough to swallow that.

The structure reminded me of a bad police procedural, only instead of the cops going back to the same witnesses over and over again each time one of them changes his or her story (Cold Case is one of the worst of the current lot in this regard, I find), the Warriors themselves keep going back to their wisewoman/seer, Marlene, everything something new happens, only to find that she knew about it all along but couldn't tell them because the time was not right, and even though she's telling them something now, there's still shit she's not sharing because the time still isn't right. Like warning Damali to watch out for vampires invading her dreams.

There really wasn't much plot for the first nine-tenths of the book, just exposition of the complicated mythos and setting and the backstories of the characters, much of the former extracted slowly and painfully from the seer Marlene. The characters talk a lot, and have lots of internal monologues, and that actually assists the one good thing I found about the book - one does get a good sense of the characters, their stories, their motivations. And I liked many of those characters, especially Damali. She's a young woman on the verge of a terrifying destiny, unsure and over-confident by turns, eager to do what she's been trained to do but at the same time, rebellious and loning to be like every other young woman who gets to go hang out with her friends at clubs and meet boys.

If someone out there could assure me that Banks manages to tone down the overblown and ritualistic origin stories and slayer mythology and just tell a story, either in the later books of the Vampire huntress series, or in any of her other urban fantasy books, I'd be willing to try her stuff again, just on the basis of the strong characterisation - because all of us need to be reading more books about strong women of colour, and that's one thing that Damali surely is.

But they've got to be better written than this.

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Blood Bank, Tanya Huff

Tanya Huff’s Blood books, featuring Vicki Nelson, homicide cop turned private investigator, Henry Fitzroy, vampire writer of bodice rippers, and Mike Celluci, Nelson’s former partner on the force, have long been favourites of mine. In fact, if I have my publications dates right, Huff pretty much invented the urban fantasy crime-solving genre with these books (they were preceded by Mercedes Lackey’s Diana Tregarde Investigations series, but the first of the Blood books was published well before the sub-genre became so popular), which is rather a remarkable feat, considering how many variations on the theme there are now in publication.

Huff brought the series to a close some years ago in a profoundly final fashion, but this volume collects the handful of short stories that feature Vicki, Mike and/or Henry, and as such is a welcome chance to return to some beloved characters.

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