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review 2018-03-13 09:38
"Rosemary and Rue - October Daye #1" by Seanan McGuire
Rosemary and Rue - Seanan McGuire,Mary Robinette Kowal

"Rosemary and Rue", the first book of the October Daye series, is an extraordinary piece of Urban Fantasy. It is sombre, complex and well written, a combination I can't resist.


The series was recommended to me as an Urban Fantasy must-read, otherwise, I wouldn't have bothered with a series centred around the Fae. Fae Fantasy seems to bring out a rose-tinted, undisciplined, acid-high hippy mindset that I have no sympathy for or it becomes a vehicle for New Adult eroticism that, even when it's done well, leaves me wanting either to laugh or to wash my hands.


The blurb wasn't encouraging, with references to Ladies and Knights and a reluctant half-blood fae PI. Yawn.


The title intrigued me. It has a Shakespearian feel to it. Rosemary and rue are two of the flowers in Ophelia's bouquet. Rosemary is for remembrance and rue is for repentance. That suggested I wasn't in for a happy-ever-after read, so I bought the audiobook version and settled down to listen.


From the beginning, it was clear that this was not a normal Urban Fantasy story with a kiss-ass heroine whose magical powers and strength of personality allow her to triumph against overwhelming odds and live to fight another day, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

October Daye is not a heroine. She's just someone trying to find a place for herself in the two worlds her half-fae half-human blood straddle. Finding a place is more about survival than ambition. October lives in a world where failure has consequences and success has a price. It is grim, unforgiving and relentless.


At the start of the book, October fails and is made to suffer consequences that would crush most of us. One of the things I admired about the book is that Seanan McGuire doesn't let her characters off the hook. Consequences are to be lived with like wounds and scars.


At first, the book seems to be about October being forced by a curse to solve the murder of a Pure-Blood Fae or die in the attempt. On this level, the book is a little flat. October bounces around the problem like a pinball, never in control and always being thrown against hard surfaces. I thought Seanan McGuire had taken Chandler's advice:

"When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand."

In line with the actions-have-consequences mindset, October spends as much time recovering from being hurt as she does investigating the death.


As the book progressed, I realised that the real focus of the story was October herself. She is made to re-examine the life she had before a mistake cost her everything. With each bounce of the pinball, we learn more about October's world and she learns more about herself.


What she learns and what she does with it bring us back to the "Rosemary and Rue" of the title: she honours her past, assessing it without nostalgia; she repents her failures without wallowing in regret and she moves on. October knows that while the life you've lived explains the scars you carry, it is your choices about what to do next that makes being alive worthwhile. The choices she makes show an acceptance of "the balance of her blood" rather than a desire to be someone else. It's a good start.


The world.building in "Rosemary and Rue" is skilfull and original. October takes for granted abuse of power and levels of punishment that makes the "magical" world very far away from Disney Princesses and much closer to the Brothers Grimm. To me it seemed to be to Urban Fantasy what Cyberpunk was to Science Fiction - a grimier, more credible version that was less about escapism and more about mirroring how the normal world works.


Seanan McGuireSo now I'm a fan of Seanan McGuire with a lot of good books to look forward to.


I've bought, "A Local Habitation", the next book in the series and "Discount Armaggedon", the first book in the InCryptid series.



Mary Robinette KowalI strongly recommend the audiobook version of "Rosemary and Rue". Mary Robinette Kowal's narration is pretty close to perfect. She amplifies the unusual rhythms of the prose and gives October a unique voice.


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review 2018-03-02 18:54
"Frost Burned - Mercy Thompson #7" by Patricia Briggs
Frost Burned - Patricia Briggs,Lorelei King

It was mid-February. The sky was pregnant with grey snow that turned to rain when I dropped 200 metres down the hill to the lakeside. The noon-time temperature was just above freezing. I had proposals to write in my deliberately small and dark office.


So, before I started my day, I decided to spend some time with Mercy Thompson and remind myself how much fun reading can be.


I opened up "Frost Burned" and found that it was Thanksgiving in Washington State, so the weather was no better than here but within a single chapter, I'd been transported from here to somewhere where all I have to do is relax and admire how skillfully Patricia Briggs re-immerses me into Mercy's world through the mundane activity of Black Friday shopping and then blows everything apart, leaving me keen to know what happens next.


Better yet, I'd been able to get "Frost Burned" in the audiobook version (books 2-6 aren't available as audiobooks in Switzerland) so I let Lorelei King lay the whole thing out for me as I walk beneath slowly brightening sky to get a café creme and a couple of croissants for breakfast.


I consumed the rest of the book over the next two days with a growing sense of contentment because the writing was good, the plot was engaging and Mercy keeps getting more and more real.


I'd wondered how Patrica Briggs would keep Mercy at the centre of things now that she's married to Adam Hauptman, the Pack Alpha and is surrounded by protective and scary werewolves. The solution was simple and brilliant: have the Pack abducted and leave Mercy to protect Adam's daughter and try to rescue the Pack.


I liked the fact that Mercy has to solve this problem by collaborating with others and by being willing to make sacrifices on a human and believable scale. The book also neatly folded in characters and themes from the earlier books. The big bad doesn't emerge out of nowhere. In retrospect, I should have been able to see something like this coming. Of course, the fact that I didn't is part of the fun.


The only criticism I have of the book is that there was a hiatus in the middle as one problem was solved only to reveal a much bigger problem underneath. I can see why the pause was there but it felt a little flat all the same and left me feeling that I had two stories stitched together.


Still, both parts of the story were good. The baddies were credible. The outcome was dramatic but feasible and Mercy has established herself as a force to be reckoned with.


I've been rationing myself to one Mercy Thompson book a month but it's March now and there's still snow outside so I'm looking forward to opening up "Night Broken" and letting Patricia Briggs and Lorelei King light up my imagination again.


Listen to the SoundCloud link below to sample Lorelei King's performance.


[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/82071871" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]

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text 2018-02-12 08:28
Reading progress update: I've read 7%. - one chapter in and already happy
Frost Burned - Patricia Briggs,Lorelei King

After deciding to DNF "Need To Know", which I'd been looking forward to enough to pre-order, I needed something to remind me how much fun reading can be.


It's mid-February. The sky is pregnant with grey snow that turns to rain when I drop 200m down the hill to the lakeside. The noon-time temperature is just above freezing. I have proposals to write in my deliberately small and dark office. 


So, before I start my day, I decided to spend some time with Mercy Thompson over in Washington State. It's Thanksgiving there, so the weather's no better but within a single chapter, I've been transported from here to somewhere where all I have to do is relax and admire how skillfully Patricia Briggs re-immerses me into Mercy's world through the mundane activity of Black Friday shopping and then blows everything apart, leaving me keen to know what happens next.


Better yet, I was able to get this book in the audible version (books 2-6 aren't available as audiobooks in Switzerland) so I can let Lorelei King lay the whole thing out for me as I walk beneath slowly brightening sky to get a café creme and a couple of croissants for breakfast.


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review 2018-02-10 15:46
"River Marked - Mercedes Thompson #6" by Patricia Briggs
River Marked - Patricia Briggs

At the start of "River Marked", I found myself smiling. I was glad to be back in Mercy's company and pleased that she has been granted some happiness.  Patricia Briggs writes in a way that makes me feel that I'm going, if not home, then at least back to a favourite place when I open a Mercedes Thompson book. That's a rare gift.


Mercy is getting married. Honest. Any day soon. If she can survive her mother's plan-everything-down-to-the-last-second approach. As the wedding plans devolved into chaos my smile broadened. This felt warm and real.


When the Fae offered a fancy mobile home for Mercy's honeymoon and a free stay at a perfect spot, I grinned harder, knowing that bad things were bound to follow.


The honeymoon takes place on the Columbia River, near Horsethief Lake Park in Washington and the Bad Thing is drawn from Native American traditions and is a lot scarier than the vampires and most of the Fae we've met so far. This monster is hunger incarnate and people are its favourite prey.



(]Horsethief Falls Pictograph: She Who Watches. East gorge. WA. Angie Moore. 1M "She Who Watches"Pectroglph)


I liked the way this story uses Mercy's Native American heritage and of course, her Walker/Coyote nature to give her a better understanding of herself without getting all soppy about it and without sentimentalising Native American Myths.


There were clever links to the pictographs in the Park and the scene in the local standing stones was very well done. I loved the fact that Mercy's magical nature meant she could see things the young shaman-in-training wanted to believe in but had not yet managed to see.


This time, even though Adam is at her side, it is Mercy who must save the day. She gets help from some surprising places, including meeting with Coyote himself. Patricia Briggs manages to balance, magic, myth, murderous violence with humour and compassion in a way I find very pleasing.


The book also moves Mercy on. It gives her happiness and security and demonstrates her strength while still showing her as vulnerable. The letter Mercy wrote to Adam, to be opened if she didn't survive her encounter with the Big Bad, summed her up perfectly.



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review 2018-01-22 16:39
"The Veil - Devil's Isle #1" by Chloe Neill
The Veil - Chloe Neill

Somehow I managed to miss Chloe Neill's Chicagoland Vampire series, so I came to "The Veil" with no expectations other than it had been recommended by Faith Hunter, who writes the Jane Yellowrock and Soulwood series.

"The Veil" makes a promising start to Chloe Neill's new "Devil's Isle" series. The premise of the book is original and intriguing. It takes places in New Orleans seven years after the end of a war that started when "the Veil" that separates our world from the magical one was torn open by magical forces that wanted to conquer the Earth. They lost. The Veil was resealed. Nothing was the same afterwards.

I liked the complexity and plausibility of the post-war world that Chloe Neill constructed and I enjoyed how she revealed it gradually by expanding the understanding of the main character, Claire Connolly. Claire, who was in her teens when the war happened and lost her father to it, now runs the antiques store in The French Quarter that her father left her. She is trying to lead a quiet, hardworking life, honouring the memory of her father and not drawing attention to herself. Given that she has magical powers that are currently illegal and that she can't stop herself from coming to the rescue of women under threat. this turns out to be an ambition she can't fulfil.

This is a fun, light read, with likeable characters, interesting ideas and good actions scenes. It tends a little towards Young Adult in its politics-lite view of the world but it is still an entertaining read for grown-ups.

I groaned a little at how beautiful everyone had to be, especially the main male character. It didn't add anything for me except slightly clichéd romance and struck a false note amongst all the original ideas.

It works as a standalone but is mainly a set up for the series. I didn't mind that. The second book is already out and I'm looking forward to it.

I recommend this to anyone who wants some original, upbeat, urban fantasy and who doesn't mind the odd bit of eye-candy ogling along the way.

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