Book Reviews for April 2015
Reviewed by Normalene Zeeman
Prescott Public Librarian
Scan (2014) by Walter Jury and Sarah Fine
Tate finds out the fate of the world is on his shoulders. He is human and the world has been infiltrated and is now about 60% alien and rising. Tate's father is a scientist who has invented a scanner that can tell alien from human and when Tate steals it, he unknowingly unleashes the escalation of an ongoing battle with not only the aliens who want it, but his father's possibly untrustworthy coworkers who also want it. Who to trust - maybe his mother, maybe not; maybe his alien girlfriend, maybe not? The world building is good and while derivative of I am Number Four, this world is just unique enough that you can't say this is a clone. Tate is pretty polished for as young as he is, he knows martial arts, speaks eleven languages (to his father's 26), aces chemistry and was able to hack his father's lab computer at the age of twelve and yet he is still very likeable. We meet some of the Fifty Families, the only reliably pure humans left on the planet and some of them are a little on the extreme side, hence the word "pure." This is a fast read even for a young adult book and is the first in a series, even though you don't know that at the beginning. I liked Sarah Fine's other YA fantasy books as the characters are fun and quirky and Walter Jury's experience with film gives most of the scenes a cinematic quality that you just know would translate to film so wonderfully. Now we are just waiting on the next book - big sigh!
Death Sworn (2014) by Leah Cypress
Magicians and assassins have a treaty that requires a magician tutor for assassins with talent, so when two tutors die in rapid succession, Ileni is sent to find out why. Knife-wielding, assassin-in-training, Sorin is assigned to be her protector, but soon becomes more than that. With death just a slice away and no trustworthy allies near, Ileni and Sorin are on their own. I had hoped this would be a standalone story but the ending leads me to believe it is the first in a young adult series. The world building is unique and even though most of the story takes place in the caves, the setting is well-portrayed and the characters have their own personalities. If you like stories of magic and assassins, you should read Maria V. Snyder's Study series or John Flanagan's Spooks Apprentice series. For older teen audiences, the Game of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin may be too bloody but is good none the less.
The Eighth Day (2014) by Dianne K. Salerni
This is a great children's book about a group of people who live an extra day between Wednesday and Thursday. We meet some of them who want to return the world to an earlier time where they ruled with magic and the normal people worshipped them. This has some of the best use of the Arthurian legends as a plot device I've seen since D.J. MacHale's "Pendragon" series. The two main characters are young boys who really have the fate of the world on their shoulders while fighting factions of their own group and their enemies, the evil Kin, who might not be so evil. Jax Aubrey's parents died when he was young and his guardian Riley isn't much older than he is. As Salerni slowly unveils the world and its mythology, you get sucked in and can't stop turning pages. This feels more like a young adult book than a book for kids but the author kept it mostly age-appropriate. As the first in the series, I have more to look forward to - meeting more of the magic-using families and the Kin. If you like the Arthurian edge, try the "Pendragon" series by MacHale and if you like the magic part, try Cinda Williams Chima's, "Heir" series, starting with The Warrior Heir. If you like the idea of living an extra day, try Scott Westerfield's "Midnighters" series.
Firebug (2014) by Lish McBride
This was a great world filled with awesome characters and rich with historical underpinnings and mythology come to life - Ava, the firebug (similar to Firestarter by Stephen King) lives with her guardian, Cade, her two support team members: Ezra, a fox-shifter and Lock, a male version of a dryad and Ava works for the local supernatural Mafia which is controlled by the vampire, Venus. The mythology is complex and the supernatural political climate is intricately interwoven. This makes for conflict and drama from the very beginning as Venus uses Ava as an enforcer and Ava wants out. If you love McBride's young adult books, you should also try the Spider series by Jennifer Estep as they are just as wonderful, but for more adult audiences.
Pacific Fire (2015) by Greg Van Eekhout
This is the sequel to California Bones (2014) about osteomancer Daniel Blackland and an alternate-history Los Angeles. Our narrator and one of the main protagonists this time is the golem of the Hierarch, who goes by the name of Sam. Daniel rescued him in the first book and they've been on the run ever since. This book tells us of the difference between doing magic and being magic. When Sam gets kidnapped to fuel a magic project and is taken back to L.A., Daniel goes after him and we meet the rest of the team again as they help Daniel figure out how to get Sam back. There is much more back story and we meet some characters who were thought to be dead. The end of this one left us ready for the next with a cliffhanger ending that you will not see coming.
The Mime Order (2015) by Samantha Shannon
This is the sequel to The Bone Season (2014), last year's breakout book about an alternate London with invaders who feed off of humans with ESP powers and presents a well-realized criminal underworld with levels of players and competing crime syndicates. Paige has escaped the prison city of Sheol 1, hidden under the forbidden city of Oxford and returned to London. Mime Lord Jaxon takes her back as his Pale Dreamer but she feels she must fight for the freedom of the clairvoyants in the struggle between the Rephaim and the Emim which has slipped into our world as we are food for the Rephaim - and the Emim will eat anything. Her forbidden relationship with the Rephaim, Warden, heats up when they start to work together to overthrow the ruling family of Sheol. The Mime Lords and Mime Queens have much to lose in this fight so they may not be on Paige's side. The ending of this one was not as much of a surprise as I would have thought; but it still left me eagerly waiting for the next one.
Toads and Diamonds (2010) by Heather Tomlinson
Based on a Charles Perrault fairy tale, this young adult fantasy features two sisters who each receive very different blessings from their goddess: Diribani drips jewels and flowers when she speaks and her sister, Tana releases lucky frogs and snakes when she speaks. As this is set in an alternate India during the age of emperors, snakes are a blessed sign from the goddess as they eat rats, mice and other vermin. Greedy overseers value jewels more than vermin-catchers so when plague strikes because of the lack of snakes, Tana must find a way to fight the adherents of the one god and get snakes to people who need them. Meanwhile Diribani has been taken to the capital to be held by the prince who collects the jewels for himself. Complications arise and Tana and Diribani rise to the occasion while growing and learning what the goddess wants from them. This does not have the usual young adult love triangle which was refreshing and the two main characters were strong and competent even in the face of what should have been overwhelming odds. You can see the roots of the fairy tale; but what Tomlinson does with it to make it her own shows unique world building and fascinating characters living a page-turning upbeat story.
Half-Resurrection Blues (2015) by Daniel Jose Older
Older is such a wordsmith that by the time I had finished, I had several notes stuck on pages where I couldn't get the phrasing out of my head. For example on page 100: "... you can embrace that wild enigmatic complicated bitch that is your destiny and ride it into the motherfucking sunset." Ouch, sounds painful! This is the story of Carlos Delacruz, an inbetweener, a half-risen-from-the-dead enforcer for the New York Council of the Dead. He thinks he is the only one until he gets an assignment to kill a man and finds out he may have killed the only other inbetweener that exists. Carlos doesn't know his history from before he died, but as he gets farther into trying to solve the mystery of his assignment, he starts to learn more than he wants to know. His target's sister may be a victim or a villain, but he likes her a lot: "I want to take that face in my hands and put my own face against it and let our connecting faces be the fulcrum that swings our two bodies together and let the winter night guide our combined life forces into an intimate tangle that obliterates fears and regrets, but instead I just smile and offer her my arm." (pg. 107) This is word porn at its best and it is sprinkled throughout the book. The characters are mostly ghosts and spirits but their dreams and fears are just as real as live people and Older makes you care. This is the first in a new series about Agent Delacruz and his adventures as an enforcer for the Dead. The world is unique, the secondary characters are quirky and Carlos is funny and elegant, hard and merciful, all at the same time.
Finn Fancy Necromancer (2015) by Randy Henderson
Necromancer Finn Gramarye is just returning from exile for a crime he didn't commit, but before his essence jumps back into his changeling-inhabited body, his transfer is interrupted by another attempt on his life. You would think things couldn't get much worse, but he finds his annoying older brother stealing magical artifacts from the family mortuary/necromancy business and selling them for cash, his simple but sweet, little brother still erroneously thinks he is a waerwolf and has to drink a special potion to keep from changing, his teen crush witch is a middle-aged mom and his human best friend can't understand why he disappeared for 25 years. If that isn't enough, several attempts on his life lead him to extraordinary efforts to clear his name and find the right girl for his little brother even if it is the girl he likes and all the clues lead to his older brother being the culprit. He has to do all this without the memories of the last 25 years which he should have gotten in the initial transfer. The worldbuilding is cool and interesting (I loved the gnomes and the sasquatch) and just enough of the real world shows through to give it a gritty realistic feel, the ending was good but left room for more adventures with Finn and family. The high quality of writing is such that you would never guess that this is Henderson's first novel.
The Golden City (2013) by J. Kathleen Cheney
Two nonhuman races, Selkies and underwater dwellers, live in an uneasy balance with humans in an alternate 1800's Portugal. When Oriana and her employer Isabel are captured and placed underwater in an art piece and left to die, Oriana's gills and webbed fingers allow her to escape but she can't get to Isabel fast enough to save her. The hunt for the killers and the mastermind behind the plot is slow to develop and the red herrings (sorry for the pun) are many, but the characters are wonderfully portrayed and the mythology and culture behind the Selkie race and Oriana's underwater civilization is very detailed when it gets mentioned. The secondary character arc of Duilio's search for his mother's pelt was well-integrated into the main plot but didn't detract from the story. The story was well-paced and the relationship between Oriana and Duilio is believable and the author left room at the end for a sequel and if she decides to write one, I would like to read it.
Memory of Water (2012/2014) by Emmi Itaranta
Winner of a debut literary award in Itaranta's native Finland and nominated for the 2014 Philip K. Dick Award, the 2015 Compton Crook Award and on the short list for the new "Kitschies" Golden Tentacle Award, this is a powerful book with a strong message. Teenaged Tea Master Noria lives in a small town hiding the secret location of her unending supply of water from a dystopian police society and even her friends. But watching the town devolve into wasted, thirsty, strangers willing to betray theor neighbors for a drop of precious water may lead her to decisions she will regret. Itaranta's book was picked up by young adult publisher Harper Voyager on the strength of its original Finnish award, but is possibly clairvoyant in its view of our future. There was no translator for this version because Itaranta writes in both Finnish and English.