Review of Something More than Night by Ian Tregillis

SMTNTitle: Something More than Night

Author: Ian Tregillis

Publisher: Tor Books

Format: eBook

Where I Received the Title: Amazon.com

Review:

The great archangel, Gabriel has been murdered and like a shooting star, he burns across the night sky. A fallen angel by the name of Bayliss, who has made the Earth his home, is tasked with finding a mortal to replace the slain seraphim. While wandering through a crowd of humans, he manages to knock an innocent bystander, Molly, in front of a street tram. Rather than suffer the fate of death, she is transformed into an angel. Molly tries to come to grips with her new reality, uncover the mystery behind Gabriel’s death. But she still clings to her past, which haunts not only her own memories, but the lives of those she loves.

Tregillis’s novel is written from two very distinct viewpoints, which I will say is the strength in the book. Bayliss is told in heavy noir form, using words that only can be found in classic pulp detective novels. Molly, who recently broke up with her girlfriend and tends to her addict brother, has a more modern narrative voice. The differences in voice help to differentiate two very distinct people. Bayliss is essentially an antihero demon. He is not filled with completely evil motives, but he does have a secret or two and he makes no apologies for his sins. Molly, on the other hand, has a big heart and cares for those around her. She puts up with Bayliss’s antics, likely because she has no one else to turn to.

There is no lack of description in the book and Tregillis writes with elegant prose. At times, the wordiness of the setting bogged down the narrative, but overall I found the writing a delight to read. It is intelligent and witty and his use of language helps build empathy for Molly’s character. One scene in particular involves Molly returning to her past lover, only to discover that her efforts to intervene only cause destruction. Each touch and emotion Molly feels brings the reader a sense of hurt and longing that is difficult to describe.

While angels and demons are the subject of the novel, it largely is an invention of Tregillis’s own mythology. Specific orders of angels (cherubim, seraphim, powers, etc.) are borrowed from Biblical and medieval texts, but liberties are taken with the theology to make it pure fantasy.

I would characterize this novel as a mid-twentieth century urban fantasy with a more literary flavor than the paranormal romances that consume a majority of the shelves. Thematically, I found the premise interesting, but I am not particularly attracted to noir, which runs throughout the novel. Bottom line — if the story sounds interesting, I think you will love it. I liked it well enough and certainly plan to see what other novels Ian Tregillis has in store.

Review: Dirty Magic by Jaye Wells

DMTitle: Dirty Magic

Author: Jaye Wells

Publisher: Orbit

Format: electronic ARC

Where I Received the Title: NetGalley

Review:

Dirty Magic has caused a lot of problems in Babylon. These addicting potions can help you lose weight in some places or help you gain weight in others. They can make you stronger or can relieve depression. But one of these magical narcotics is more dangerous than any before it — Grey Wolf. This shapeshifting formula transforms the best of souls into a bloodthirsty werewolf of sorts within minutes.

The Magic Enforcement Agency (MEA) is after the makers of this drug and commissions policewoman, Kate Prospero to help with the case. She’s tough in a Stephanie Plum sort of way, but is loath to use the greatest skill in her arsenal — dirty magic. There are skeletons in Prospero’s closet, but to defeat the formidable forces behind Grey Wolfe, she must revisit her past. Unfortunately, sometimes the only way to fight magic is with magic.

I admit that I don’t read a lot of urban fantasy, so if I were to compare this book to The Dresden Files, it may very well be a poor comparison. The novel starts out with a strong voice and great action right out of the shoot, but for a bit I worried that everything was just a clever corollary to the real world without actually needing magic. The MEA is essentially the DEA and dirty magic is a creative form of illegal drugs. It wasn’t until midway through the book that I began to see that the magic in this book is definitely crucial to the plot as well as to Prospero’s character.

Prospero lives with her younger brother and takes responsibility for him, careful to avoid his exposure to the world of magic. She sees how it has destroyed lives, particularly the lives of those close to her. Her wealthy ex-boyfriend, John Volos, becomes involved in the case, for good and for bad, bringing Prospero’s traumatic past to a front.

I like the way Wells writes, with a voice that is very active and present in the situation. It kept me in the text. Prospero’s character was well-thought out, although I must admit that I found some of the other characters to feel a little hollow. Volos, in particular, seemed to lack true motivation to do the things he did throughout the novel.

I suspect that many urban fantasy fans will find this novel to be a complete delight. The overall plot is a little predictable, but is satisfying nonetheless and the hero of the story is well-equipped with likable traits and motivation to make the reader want to cheer for her. This novel is the first book in a series and even though it was a complete story arc, it set the series up nicely for future installments. You can expect more magic and even greater struggles for our streetwise MEA agent, Kate Prospero, in the future.

Review of Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

9519042Title: Zoo City

Author: Lauren Beukes

Rating: 4 star

Publisher: Angry Robot

Review:

Non-Western settings are en vogue right now in fantasy fiction, which works out quite well for South African native, Lauren Beukes. My very limited knowledge of the area comes from snippets I’ve seen in television and magazines and of course, the famed novel, Cry, the Beloved Country.

In Zoo City, Lauren Beukes is rooted in real world Johannesburg, but with a fantastical twist. Criminals are magically tethered to an animal that many will liken to the daemon-human pairing of The Golden Compass. But the comparison does not extend much deeper as Zoo City is an entirely unique novel with a very unique premise.

Zinzi December is the novel’s protagonist, a recovering drug addict who finds herself paired with a sloth for a past crime. She is in financial debt and uses her special skill of finding lost things mixed with email spamming to pay back the money she owes.

Beukes writes with elegant prose, hip cultural references (that I fear at times I was too deft too comprehend), poetic metaphors, and a narrative voice that makes you feel like you are reading something literary and cultural, while still thriving as a cool urban fantasy. We are lost in the undertow of Johannesberg, in the dark and dirty streets with prostitutes and drug addicts. We also walk in the light of a cool urban scene with a hip music scene and other animal pairings.

While the world-building and prose were top notch, I did find myself bogged down with the plot. Part of my problem may have been that I listened to this book on audio — which I do not recommend. This would be a great story told as a dramatization (with South African music), but the story as is serves better in print.

Zoo City has received high acclaim and it is well-deserved. Beukes is a talented writer who actually has deeper thoughts to convey beyond the basic story. I enjoyed Zoo City very much and look forward to reading her latest novel, The Shining Girls, very soon.

Review of The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig

16071824Title: The Blue Blazes

Author: Chuck Wendig

Rating: 4 star

Publisher: Angry Robot

Review:

In the midst of Chuck Wendig’s successful Miriam Black series comes a new series. The first entry, The Blue Blazes, features an equally tough protagonist by the name of Mookie Pearl. He was a mine worker who eventually worked his way to the top of The Organization, a conglomerate of New York’s nastiest street gangs. Beneath the city is an underworld filled with monsters that long to stretch their dominion. There are goblins, ghost, golems, giant cankerworms and these strange shadowy figures that envelop their prey in the folds of their invisible wings. These creatures are invisible to the naked eye — that is unless one is doped up on the underworld powdered drug known as blue blazes.

Mookie’s role is simple — he takes care of business. Whether it’s fighting a pack of goblins (gobbos) or tracking down derelict members of one of the street gangs, he uses his brute strength and street-fighting sensibility to maintain order. The man is impenetrable aside from his one Achilles’ heel — his love for his daughter, Nora.

The word on the street is that Nora’s been spreading information that The Organization’s boss has come down with cancer. His only heir is his grandson, who by most accounts appears unfit to take the helm. These rumors incite disorder among the ranks and Mookie (whose fatherhood of Nora remains secret) must confront her before she winds up dead.

The situation for Nora escalates even further after she is caught on video committing a terrible crime and Mookie finds his loyalty at odds. He wants to save Nora while maintaining loyalty to The Organization, but the task seems impossible. Unless she is innocent.

A rumored drug called red rage holds the key to their survival and Mookie is willing to plunge into the depths of the underworld to get it. Upon his return, he finds that the above world is even less friendly. Suddenly, the entire fate of New York City rests on his shoulders.

Let me state the obvious here before I review the story — the cover art is amazing! Joey Hi-Fi does fantastic artwork for both Lauren Beukes and Chuck Wendig and it keeps getting better with every novel. It is simple at first glance, yet has so much detail and depth that ties into the novel. It probably deserves a review of its own.

As for the novel, Wendig has proven himself to be a reliable and prolific author. What I expect in picking up a Wendig novel is a tough, street-wise, smart ass protagonist with a hard shell and a soft spot inside. I expect punchy dialog, snappy prose, and a gritty narrative voice. With The Blue Blazes you get everything you expect and hope for out of Wendig.

In addition to being an urban fantasy, The Blue Blazes has elements of noir and mystery, with Mookie playing a dual role of an action hero and a pulp detective. His character is strong, but unlike Miriam Black, he isn’t what sticks with you after finishing the novel. For me, the novel’s greatest strength lies in its milieu. Many of the classic monsters from the tabletop RPG’s of yore hide in the mines, sewers and deep caverns below the city. We have been beat over the head with zombies and werewolves and vampires and here comes Wendig with a rich, fantastical world full of fresh, but recognizable monsters to battle. I loved the primitive weapons the gobbos used in fighting (e.g. a fanged, baby goblin strapped to the end of a stick) and the rock golems provide an uncanny twist to the world.

My criticisms of the novel are really quite minor and almost not worth mentioning. I did feel at times that the multiple points of view were a little jarring and it took me awhile to understand the true relationship of Mookie with his daughter and ex-wife. But criticisms aside, you won’t go wrong with this novel. It is inventive, edgy, and a joy to read. There are so many possibilities for the series in the future. The underworld drugs play a vital role in the plot development, turning mere men into superheroes and there are a rainbow of drugs to be discovered in subsequent novels. I also suspect that in the deeper crevices of the underworld we will find even greater foes beyond our wildest imaginations. If you haven’t read Chuck Wendig before, it’s time you get yourself acquainted. Feel free to start with this novel — with good characters, a fascinating world, and a satisfying plot, you can’t go wrong.