Book review: Catch Me When I Fall

Catch Me When I Fall by Vicki Leigh

Daniel is a 200 year old Protector, people who spend their afterlife protecting humans from Nightmares, which are creatures who invade people’s minds and make them go insane. Daniel’s job is a Catcher, someone who stops the Nightmares, and he partners with other Catchers and at least one Weaver, whose job it is to bring humans dreams. When Daniel is assigned to protect Kayla, a sixteen year-old girl in a mental institution, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him—and this goes double when, during his first night on duty, Kayla is attacked by six Nightmares at once. The race is one to find out why Kayla is a special target, but the more Daniel digs into Kayla’s history, the more he finds himself attracted to her.

For the most part, I really liked Daniel’s character, and he was the right choice as the focus on this story. His personality and the world-building is established immediately, and there’s a lot of history between Daniel, Seth, Sam, and Tabbi that is hinted at; I got the impression that these were people who’d been friends for a long time. They shared stories, had that easy lingo that exists among friends, and it simply made them human. These characters are also funny, which is a huge plus for me in a paranormal book. Some of the older characters like Giovanni, Bartholomew, and Trishna aren’t as fleshed out, but they don’t have to be; they serve their given roles well.

But if you don’t like Kayla, this book might not work for you because the stakes of the story are tied up in Kayla, her past, and her budding relationship with Daniel. I personally found Daniel and Kayla’s relationship to be freaking cute, and they share a lot or realistic couple moments. Kayla is the catalyst that raises Daniel’s mission from ‘everyday business’ into ‘life-threatening weirdness.’ Kayla, as a character, worked best for me early on the in the novel when she was institutionalized. After she leaves the hospital, I never felt she grew much as a character, even as her relationship with Daniel progressed. In the end, Kayla was supposed to have a connection to the antagonist that felt hollow for me, which is a shame because it did weaken the finale of the story.

This gets to the larger plot issue in this book: the ending didn’t feel like it had the emotional weight it needed to have. Maybe it happens too quickly or the bonds between various characters never materialized, but the villains ended up feeling weak. There should seriously be an emotionally strong reaction to the climax of this story, but it just rang a bit hollow for me. The ideas are there, and the protagonists are fleshed out, but there’s never a moment when I believed Kayla would go ‘dark side’; it just wasn’t a plot that was set up, and nothing in her character up until that point indicated it would be. Daniel’s battle with the surprise villain of the story also should’ve carried more weight, but there was never a moment where I felt Daniel cared for this character as a person, so the betrayal at the end didn’t register anything more than a superficial reaction.

That said, there are some great twists and battles building up until the finale that are satisfying; Daniel and Kayla face off against a wraith, which really gets the plot rolling. There’s a great feud between Daniel, Seth, and Ivan early on in the novel as well that establishes that everything might not be sing-alongs and hand-holding circles in Protector manor; they’re the good guys, sure, but not all of them are good people. There are copious fights against Nightmares and the witches and warlocks use powerful magic throughout the story, too. Kayla’s flashback showing how she was put in the mental institution is intensely real, and I loathed the way her mother treated her after the incident; that entire scenario felt so real to me.

There’s a lot of good character work with the protagonists in this novel. They’re funny, they’re grounded in an interesting world, and the main protagonists feel unique. The initial plot and premise was very interesting, and it kept me wanting more. However, the plot did fall apart near the end, and the emotional stakes between protagonist and antagonist didn’t quite reach the level they needed to for this story to deliver on its strengths.

Random Thoughts:

  • “Lasso my heart” was a very beautiful line—one of the best ways I’ve seen a budding romance described recently
  • I would read a novella about Seth’s antics with the Pope.
  • The Veronica Mars dream would’ve been so worth having nightmares for.
  • Daniel’s crack about girls liking to shop made me dislike him for a while. Seriously, dude? You’ve been a live 200 years, and that’s what you take away from your time watching women? It’s a joke, but still—UGH.
  • I wanted more Ivan and Nolan because they’re both sardonic a-holes, which are my types of characters.

Read if: You want a paranormal romance with a strong, male romantic lead who doesn’t read poetry or swoon. The relationship in this story is seriously cute but not sappy.

Beware if: You want a story with interesting villains. This story doesn’t have one, unfortunately, even though it has plenty of supernatural monsters.

My rating: 4 stars because Daniel was the main character and the world building is strong, but the villians let me down.

Book review: Dead Iron

Dead Iron by Devon Monk

I couldn’t stop thinking about this book; I read it really quickly, knew I liked the writing style, but I was unsure how I felt about the overall story, and then it took a full 48 hours to sink in—this book was flipping great. The writing is snappy, the story is fast-paced, and the characters are all fleshed out, and I felt like I knew them all instantly.

Cedar Hunt is a hunter with a curse and an equally tragic past sans curse; he plays the trope of the Iron Woobie straight, and that’s fine because the character’s written well here. Rose Smalls, Shard LeFel, and Mae Lindstron flesh out the four main characters, and all of them have significant plot in this book. Mae is a witch whose husband Jeb has gone missing, and she fears he’s dead (she’s partially right). Rose is a town girl with a head for mechanics (it is Steampunk, after all), some magical energy about her, and a personality that’s too big for a town obsessed with marrying off daughters at 16. Shard LeFel is an evil son-of-a-bitch, and he’s the main antagonist in the novel.

The plot revolves around LeFel wanting to go back to his magical other realm; he’s 300 years old, and his time on earth is up. If he doesn’t get back, he dies. LeFel is being pursued by the Madder brothers, three ‘men’ who are also long-lived beings (the aspect of what they are is unclear to me, although my guess would be something akin to fae). The big plot is about LeFel trying to get back home, which involves three sacrifices and a MacGuffin. But let’s not dwell too much on the overall plot, which sometimes feels like a sideshow to the journeys Mae, Cedar, Jeb, and Rose go on; this isn’t a dig on the main plot—it’s an electric ride with plenty of scares—but I cared about the character’s personal journeys a lot more than the main plot. This may bother some people, but the characters were awesome and kept me wanting to read more.

There’s many layers to this book, which is impressive considering how much of the plot I’ve written about in this review already. But there’s so much more–maybe too much for some, but the plethora of ideas and depth of world-building always is subserviant to the characters and their arcs. From early in the book, I guessed how it might end, and while there were no real surprises for me, the final confrontation was satisfying. The emotional moments in this book may not register for those who don’t like gritty Westerns, but I think that element elevated this story for me.

The part of the book that wore on me the most was aspects of the steam punk world. I get it, steam punk is atmospheric, and gadgets are nifty, but sometimes the action and horror get bogged down in what all the devices look like. Also, we’ve seen a hot air balloon before, so introducing one in-world as if it’s very novel just doesn’t build to the same level as, say, the three sacrifices moment it’s juxtaposed against.

I know I love a book when I find myself shouting at the pages or computer screen; I did that several times during this book. The characters are all well-done versions of their respective tropes, so while I didn’t find any of them surprising (there is a sequel…), I found them all interesting. The world building is there, but the main thing you need to know is that it’s a Western Steampunk with paranormal elements. The plot never slows down and is unusually straight forward for urban fantasy (seriously, you know 95% of what you need to know for the plot by chapter 3), so the story utilizes the dramatic tension of knowing LeFel has the prisoners juxtaposed against Cedar, Mae, Rose, and Jeb’s problems to solve their respective missions. In a less skilled hand, this might’ve failed spectacularly to create tension, but the characters are well crafted. What I’m saying is read it to find out for yourself.

Random Thoughts:

  • I seriously kept waiting for this book to take a True Blood turn in the relationship department. Monk restrains herself (that’s what sequels are for).
  • LeFel and Mr. Shunt are nasty villians. Seriously surprised LeFel didn’t twirl a mustache at some point.
  • Rose might seem a bit useless, but she’s clearly in here for sequel bait.

Read if: you’re an urban fantasy fan that wished True Grit (the remake) should’ve included some werewolves.

Beware if: you have a low tolerance for steam punk mixed into your urban fantasy. Also, if you like romance, this book isn’t for you.

My rating: 5 stars for having a full story, teasing the sequel, and being unable to get off my brain.

4 for Friday Blitz! Free Books by great authors

4 for Friday Blitz – Presented by Month9Books with Giveaway

(Disclosure: Month9Books is not my publisher; I’m a member of their chapter by chapter team of reviewers. I like their titles, though, and plan on reviewing all of these in the future.)

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Welcome to the 4 for Friday Blitz for Crown of Ice by Vicki L. Weavil, Fire in the Woods by Jennifer M. Eaton, Avian by Nicole Conway, and Branded by Abi Ketner and Missy Kalicicki, presented by Month9Books!

Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post.

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Thyra Winther’s seventeen, the Snow Queen, and immortal, but if she can’t reassemble a shattered enchanted mirror by her eighteenth birthday she’s doomed to spend eternity as a wraith.

Armed with magic granted by a ruthless wizard, Thyra schemes to survive with her mind and body intact. Unencumbered by kindness, she kidnaps local boy Kai Thorsen, whose mathematical skills rival her own. Two logical minds, Thyra calculates, are better than one. With time rapidly melting away she needs all the help she can steal.

A cruel lie ensnares Kai in her plan, but three missing mirror shards and Kai’s childhood friend, Gerda, present more formidable obstacles. Thyra’s willing to do anything – venture into uncharted lands, outwit sorcerers, or battle enchanted beasts — to reconstruct the mirror, yet her most dangerous adversary lies within her breast. Touched by the warmth of a wolf pup’s devotion and the fire of a young man’s desire, the thawing of Thyra’s frozen heart could be her ultimate undoing.

CROWN OF ICE is a YA Fantasy that reinvents Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” from the perspective of a young woman who discovers that the greatest threat to her survival may be her own humanity.

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Chapter-by-Chapter-header---About-the-Author

Vicki Weavil 11

Vicki Lemp Weavil was raised in a farming community in Virginia, where her life was shaped by a wonderful family, the culture of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and an obsession with reading. Since obtaining her undergraduate degree in Theatre from the University of Virginia, she’s gone on to acquire two masters degrees, living in places as diverse as New York City and rural North Carolina. She’s currently the library director for a performing an visual arts university. Vicki loves good writing in any genre, and has been known to read seven books in as many days. She enjoys travel, gardening, and the arts. Vicki lives in North Carolina with her husband, son, and some very spoiled cats.

Author Links: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Tumbler

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When a plane crashes in the woods near Jess’s home, the boy of her dreams falls out of the sky—literally. But David’s not here to find a girlfriend. He’s from another planet, and if Jess can’t help him get back to his ship, he’ll be stuck on Earth with nothing to look forward to but the pointy end of a dissection scalpel.

But her father runs their house like an army barracks, and with an alien on the loose, Major Dad isn’t too keen on the idea of Jess going anywhere. Ever. So how the heck is she supposed to help the sweetest, strangest, and cutest guy she’s ever met?

Hiding him in her room probably isn’t the best idea. Especially since her Dad is in charge of the squadron searching for David. That doesn’t mean she won’t do it. It just means she can’t get caught.

Helping David get home while protecting her heart—that’s gonna be the hard part. After all, she can’t really fall for a guy who’s not exactly from here.

As they race through the woods with Major Dad and most of the U.S. military one breath behind them, Jess and David grow closer than either of them anticipated. But all is not what it seems. David has a genocide-sized secret, and one betrayal later, they are both in handcuffs as alien warships are positioning themselves around the globe. Time is ticking down to Armageddon, and Jess must think fast if she’s to save the boy she cares about without sacrificing Earth—and everyone on it.

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Chapter-by-Chapter-header---About-the-Author

Jennifer M. Eaton

Corporate Team Leader by day, and Ranting Writer by night. Jennifer M. Eaton calls the East Coast of the USA home, where she lives with her husband, three energetic boys, and a pepped up poodle.

Jennifer hosts an informational blog “A Reference of Writing Rants for Writers (or Learn from My Mistakes)” aimed at helping all writers be the best they can be.

Beyond writing and motivating others, she also enjoys teaching her dog to jump through hoops—literally.

Jennifer’s perfect day includes long hikes in the woods, bicycling, swimming, snorkeling, and snuggling up by the fire with a great book; but her greatest joy is using her over-active imagination constructively… creating new worlds for everyone to enjoy.

Author Links: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

Avian-Cover

What kind of power is lurking inside him?

After a year of training to become a dragonrider, Jaevid Broadfeather has been sent home to rest during a three-month interlude. But when he returns to find the king drake has chosen Beckah Derrick as his new rider, Jaevid realizes something big is about to happen. Every fiber of his being is pushed to the breaking point as Jaevid battles through his avian year, preparing for the final graduation test of the battle scenario. But there is more standing in his way than a few pushups and fancy sword moves.

Jaevid must face a new fear as he is tormented by a gruesome nightmare of a mysterious gray elf warrior murdering the royal family of Maldobar. It seems obvious to him that this is some kind of message about how the war started long ago—until Felix assures him the king is very much alive. With his strange powers growing stronger by the day, and that violent dream replaying in his mind every night, Jaevid no longer wonders if he will pass his avian year or not . . . he wonders if he will even survive it.

The truth will soon be set loose.

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Chapter-by-Chapter-header---About-the-Author

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Nicole is the author of the children’s fantasy series, THE DRAGONRIDER CHRONICLES, about a young boy’s journey into manhood as he trains to become a dragonrider. She has completed the first two books in the series, and is now working on the third and final book.

Originally from a small town in North Alabama, Nicole moves frequently due to her husband’s career as a pilot for the United States Air Force. She received a B.A. in English with a concentration in Classics from Auburn University, and will soon attend graduate school.

She has previously worked as a freelance and graphic artist for promotional companies, but has now embraced writing as a full-time occupation.

Nicole enjoys hiking, camping, shopping, cooking, and spending time with her family and friends. She also loves watching children’s movies and collecting books. She lives at home with her husband, two cats, and dog.

Author Links: Website | Twitter | Facebook

Branded-Cover

Fifty years ago The Commander came into power and murdered all who opposed him. In his warped mind, the seven deadly sins were the downfall of society.

To punish the guilty, he created the Hole, a place where sinners are branded according to their sins. Sinners are forced to live a less than human existence in deplorable conditions, under the watchful eye of guards who are ready to kill anyone who steps out of line.

Now, LUST wraps around my neck like thick, blue fingers, threatening to choke the life out of me. I’ve been accused of a crime I didn’t commit, and the Hole is my new home.

Constant darkness.

Brutal and savage violence.

Excruciating pain.

Every day is a fight for survival.

But I won’t let them win. I will not die in the Hole.

I am more than my brand. I’m a fighter. My name is Lexi Hamilton, and this is my story.

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Chapter-by-Chapter-header---About-the-Author

Abi and Missy met in the summer of 1999 at college orientation and have been best friends ever since. After college, they added jobs, husbands and kids to their lives, but they still found time for their friendship. Instead of hanging out on weekends, they went to dinner once a month and reviewed books. What started out as an enjoyable hobby has now become an incredible adventure.

Author Links: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Tumbler

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Book Review: We Are All Completely Fine

We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory

Goodreads Review

Five survivors of supernatural trauma are coerced by their psychiatrist into joining a unique support group. If the premise of monster therapy sounds interesting to you, read on. Harrison is a twenty-something ex-monster hunter who’s less devil-may-care than he initially appears. Stan is an amputee from cannibalism, who’s in love with being a victim. Barbara encountered the mysterious Scrimshander, who carved something into her literal bones. Martin is an RPG obsessed guy who begins seeing Dwellers, creatures from the other side, and Greta is…well, she’s a girl with a secret, and initially seems like the key to why they’re all gathered together. The book is an extended character study on the trauma the Last Boy or Last Girl that defeats or survives the monsters undergoes. To be a hero means being a survivor, with all the PTSD that entails.

The styling of each chapter changes subtly to match each of the character’s personalities. Harrison’s chapters are sharper, more to the point; Barbara’s sections are more lyrical. Stan is annoying, but this is intentional. Martin’s reveal starts out a bit lame, but it’s turned into something deeper, and it’s after Martin’s reveal that I really began to trust this book, believe in its story. The book does start out tedious, but it begins to pay off. At first, Greta is used as more of a plot device than an actual character, but this changes as well; no character in this book is used solely for their backstory. Rather, the backstories build to enhance the relationships between the various characters, including the psychiatrist, Jan. It’s not a superhero team up, so don’t go into this book expecting that, but the character’s relate in ways that are more authentic, even if that means they’re not heroic. In many ways, this book subverts and challenges what it means to be a hero (seriously, there’s a fantastic Campell shout out in here).

My issue with literary fantasy is that it’s always a little thin on plot, and that’s true for We Are All Completely Fine. The first two-thirds of the book deal with the characters and their reluctance (or in Stan’s case, overenthusiasm) to share their trauma stories; there’s meeting after meeting, which is interwoven with each character focusing on their personal lives. It’s only when you get inside each character’s perspective that you begin to understand how damaged each character really is and what they’re hiding, even from themselves. If you find yourself disliking any of the characters intensely (excpet Stan, but I figured this was intentional), then you probably won’t like how the book develops. I enjoyed this book because I was invested in all of the characters, and if that hadn’t been the case, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it the same way.

While investigating each character’s background, the pieces of a mystery are subtly put into place. It’s so deftly done that I didn’t realize I had been reading a mystery until near the very end. This elevated a lot of what could’ve been interpreted as meandering navel gazing into a deeper, more fully formed story. When the story ended, I found I didn’t want it to end, which is the sign of reading something sublime.

Random Thoughts:

  • The description of the cannibals and what the Scrimshander did are truly nauseating. It’s not in your face gore, but it’s absolutely gruesome.
  • This is a great example of how horror can be psychological; there is something subtly terrifying about this book that doesn’t sink in immediately.
  • One of my first notes was how I hoped a certain character would become important, and I was absolutely rewarded. This book is satisfying in how it links disparate elements together.
  • The supernatural elements don’t actually begin to appear in present day until almost half-way through the book; the first half of this book was a bit tedious.
  • Seriously, the Campbell shout out is gold.

Read if: You like your fantasy with a literary bend. This reminded me, in the best way possible, of the character exploration done in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. This book is magical realism, where the fantasy elements are integrated into the real world in a way where you’re not sure if they’re fantastical or real until near the end.

Beware if: You like an action-packed read. This book is not heavy on action or in-your-face magic.

Rating: 4 stars because the character building and backstories pay off in interesting, if not entirely surprising, ways.

Book review: My Sister’s Reaper

My Sister’s Reaper (Reaper’s Rite #1) by Dorothy Dreyer

Goodread’s Review

Zadie’s sister Mara was hit by a bus and is in a coma, and Zadie is feeling guilty about chasing a boy, Gavin, while her sister is on the brink of death. Zadie’s guilt isn’t misplaced because she has magic powers, and she thinks she might be able to bring her sister back to life. The novel starts slow and gains traction, and the initial focus is on Zadie and her BFF, Naomi, who are both obsessed with getting a double date with the afore mentioned Gavin and his cute friend, Danny. But this story builds from Sweet Valley High to haunted house, and that’s where its strength is.

The action is more ghost story than slasher flick, which works well for the nebulous mythology woven around Vila and Reapers. The magic in this book works best when it’s left vague, and it feels like a cope out when the ‘control the four elements’ plot is added; that aspect of Zadie’s training feels like filler for something that should’ve been more interesting. The heist plot was also the most underwhelming heist scene I’ve ever read, too, and additionally felt like filler.

The highschool humor felt real, and this serves to elevate the characters above the difficult plot moments. I could see some of my high school friends reacting the way the characters did to many of the circumstances in the novel (even when the events themselves feel bland, the characters don’t). Zadie and Naomi have the most developed relationship in the novel, and I genuinely liked Naomi; Zadie’s character suffers a bit from having to shoulder the emotion burdens of the story, but I bet she’d be more fun in happier circumstances. Mara isn’t very well fleshed out (there’s a good reason for it), but I never got a solid idea of what Zadie and Mara’s relationship had previously been like before the accident. Zadie and Naomi felt more like sisters than Zadie and Mara did. It took longer for Gavin and Chase to feel real to me, but their characters get there.

The high school tropes abounded in this novel, too, and they worked for the sweet romance that developed between Gavin and Zadie; it’s a genuinely cute romance with all the hallmarks of first love done in a non-cliché way. However, I’m a little weary of the popular, alpha bitch character being used as the stock bad guy in every novel featuring a nerdy, plain girl as the protagonist. It just feels lazy to me, but maybe that experience of thinking of all popular/pretty girls as Plastics is something I never experienced so it doesn’t resonate with me. I understand that teens can be terrible to each other, but some of that bled into lazy characterization.

Dreyer’s writing voice is completely comfortable linking together the disparate parts of this novel, and that’s what ultimately saves it. The dialogue is sharp and authentic, and Zadie’s experience really captures the turmoil of juggling high school stress, relationships, and taking on a bigger role in life.

Random Thoughts:

  • Cation: this is an example of how you use science terms correctly in a paranormal fantasy novel. It’s a sharp insight, and I liked it.
  • The ugly floats thing rang true for me. Don’t pretend you didn’t paint/make some ugly floats or set pieces for a play in high school.
  • Is it ever a good idea to let your friend dye your hair?
  • I’m 90% sure I knew a Gavin in high school, and if Gavin said his favorite band was the Black Keys, I would have to email Dreyer and ask her if that’s a pen name because that characterization was uncanny.

Read if: You want a paranormal book that feels more like a ghost story that turns ordinary events like taking a bath, going to a slumber party, or building a float into a supernatural occurrence. If you’re sick of vampires, werewolves, demons, or other supernatural creatures, this could be the paranormal book for you.

Beware if: You want a mystery. There is no mystery to this plot, and I kept expecting one, but what you see is what you get in this novel.

Rating: 3 stars — loved the writing style, but didn’t connect with some of the characters and didn’t enjoy parts of the plot

Review for The Fifth Vertex

Review of The Fifth Vertex by Kevin Hoffman

Goodreads Review

Urus is a young man living in the culture that values warriors above all else…and he’s about to be culled, turned into the biggest pariah in his society. If you want to know what the phrase ‘start where the action begins’ means, read the beginning of this book; Urus starts the novel ready to commit suicide because he considers himself worthless and a failure at the one goal he wanted his entire life (his uncle and best friend are elite warriors, so it does make sense from a personal angle that he’d want to join their ranks).

One of the initial things that drew me to this book is that Urus is deaf; this is used as a genuine character struggle for him in the story. I get annoyed at characters in fantasy that are given cheap struggles; writing organic struggles for a character is difficult, and Urus’s struggles feel very personal, very real. The other main character, Calix (she gets a second name that never ends up mattering) has a unique voice, but comes across as too generic of a spunky heroine (she’s orphaned, she’s a bit sassy, she’s a fighter). Goodwyn is the best-friend and skilled at a special style of fighting; he’s initially used as a foil of success to Urus’s failure, but the beauty of this story is that, like all worthwhile fantasy, it evolves beyond its initial premise. No character embodies is more than Goodwyn and his arc.

Urus, Calix, and Goodwyn each get their own personal backstory reveals, and what struck me was how surprising they were simply because the author didn’t foreshadow them too heavily. There’s so much going on in this novel that I did slip over the clues planted in the text, and the flashback scenes literally happen right before the moment when they’re important. The final part II reveal for Urus is something you might be able to guess because it comes late enough in the novel, but Goodwyn and Calix had two out-of-left-field reveals. Calix’s reveal isn’t particularly inventive (I did say I thought she was the regrettably weakest of the main POV characters), but Goodwyn’s deepens his character and is genuinely heartwarming.

This novel has loads of world building, but it manages the often difficult task of not feeling derivative. There’s a lot of repetition about Kestian culture I really could’ve done without; there’s a few ‘as you know, Bob…’ moments sprinkled throughout the novel as well, but you’re reading high fantasy. This is a genre that’s more about world building crack than any other, and if that’s your thing, this book is your jam. The Waldron, Kestian, and briene cultures are fully fleshed out, and there are characters who have different jobs and different goals, even within the same culture. Urus, after being made an out-sider to Kestian culture, goes from parroting its values, to questioning them, and finally rejects them. (Seriously, this is a well-done fantasy hero.) The last culture of island farmers introduced were a disappoint, though, because they felt like stock character Fantasy Peasants; they’re simple, they like to live humbly, they’re open to strangers…it was the least believable culture in the novel (and I’m including an extinct Atlantis style civilization in that category, too. Seriously, a culture you don’t even meet is more fleshed out than those peasants).

The fantasy elements are in-your-face; there’s no tip-toeing around the magic in this novel. There are sigilords who can draw sigils, a powerful and rare ability, but they’re all supposed to be dead. There are blood mages, which are the most exciting magic users in the story because they fully utilize their powers in all kinds of gory and surprising ways. The arbiters are the third, mysterious force in the novel, but the character that’s an arbiter is fairly easy to spot, and that reveal wasn’t surprising for me. There’s even some steampunk thrown in for fun because the briene are dwarf like engineers, and the Waldron people have their own special fighting style that’s enjoyable to imagine.

The end of the book did make me want to scream at the page, and if the ending had broken a certain way, I really wouldn’t have given this book 4 stars. Something happens that threatened to undo so much goodness that was present in the novel up until that point, but there’s a convenient loophole used that made everything work out in a satisfying way. This is a novel that grabs your attention and keeps the focus on the characters, even when it is bathing you in world building.

Random thoughts:

  • It’s initially a bit difficult to tell if Urus is deaf or not. I had to double check to make sure he was deaf at the *start* of the novel. Don’t let this throw you because he begins the novel deaf.
  • The blood mages use a lot of blood. Often, it’s Evil Dead level of gore, so just ignore how little of the human body is *actually* made up of blood. Just…pretend they puree the organs or something. I did love how disgusting their magic was, even if I didn’t find Calix herself incredibly interesting.
  • The world ‘quantum’ is used several times to explain the sigilord’s magic—I loathed every mention of it because the explanation doesn’t go any deeper than New Age word salad. The magic system could’ve easily stood on its own without using quantum as a prop.

Read if: You want something that harkens back to older fantasy, but one that doesn’t feel like a rehash of stale worlds. The world building is a delight, and it weaves in with who the characters are in a way that comes off as organic.

Beware if: Ye Olde English bothers you; the dialogue isn’t terrible, but it’s not the shining star of the novel (and the characters are developed well even with sub-par dialogue in some parts). None of the characters in this novel are there for character relief, either, and it’s a pretty heavy novel from beginning to end.

My rating: 4 for world building and a main character that was heroic while struggling and being genuinely flawed

Book review: Fade (Book 1 of the Ragnarok Prophesies)

Fade (The Ragnarok Prophesies) By A.K. Morgen

Goodreads review

Fade (The Ragnarök Prophesies, #1)

A struggling young woman searching for meaning in her life, a tragic family event, a mysterious man…this story starts off with all the paranormal fantasy hallmarks. The main character Arionna reminded me of Elena from the first season of the Vampire Diaries when she was introduced; this is not a bad thing. Remember how you used to care about Elena? Back in the day when she had agency and choices? Me, too. If you liked that version of Elena, Arionna is the protagonist for you. Arionna cares a lot about her dad and friends. That said, Arionna falls into the trope of lost-little paranormal heroine once and a while; the bonus is she doesn’t need constant saving, so that’s a thing.

On her first day at school, Arionna meets Dace, a mysterious man with something dark inside him. It’s not love at first sight—more accurately lust at first sight. This is not a meet-cute; this isn’t going to be a sweet romance filled with sighing and love notes. These two want each other in a physical way. The romance element picks up quickly, so there’s no will-they-won’t-they time wasted. (Hint: they definitely will, but there are some trust issues in the way.)

The murder mystery mid-book was a pleasant surprise; it takes the story in a slightly different direction than I was expecting it to go in. The side characters (the triplets, Mandy, Ronan) didn’t annoy me, but the death of a character gives weight to their characters. There’s also a genuine question about why that particular character was murdered, and that event kicks of the major mythology plot of the book, which is a modern weaving of the Norse end-of-days.

The mythology about the Berserkers is interesting, and it’s fresh enough that it works, continuing to build and build until the climax. I wasn’t super crazy about Dace being an Alpha, but the saving grace of this book’s mythos is that it doesn’t dwell on anything too long for it to get annoying. Instead, more layers of myth are revealed. The story is set in a world where mythology kitchen sink exists; as an urban fantasy fan, bring it (love this trope). I was a bit disappointed at the mythology drop about Gage; I wish the reveal would’ve been, well, cooler. However, the author saves the best myth reveal for the end of the novel with Ronan.

A personal pet peeve did crop up in this story for me, which kept me from loving it. The characters comment on how weird or special they are. It’s not just with one or two characters, but every single character is ‘an unusual girl’ or ‘attracts weird things.’ That put me into auto-pilot through a chunk of this story. If the character is special, I should be able to tell that without every conversation being about how unique said character is. Dace is a Berserker; Arionna has a connection to the Berserkers that doesn’t become clear until later in the novel. However, the reveals themselves are satisfying. Both of these things didn’t need to be dressed up by having the characters waste time telling each other how different and unique they were.

Random thoughts:

  • Parents hiring professional bartenders. That made me laugh out loud. Does that happen at small colleges in the US? As far as I know, that’s never been a thing.
  • A large number of shout-outs in the naming of characters (Dace, Michealsons, Edwards, Jacobs…you get the idea).

Read if: it’s romance you want. This is the major focus of the book. Also, if you like NA (contemporary) reimaginings of mythology, this is a go, but it’s a darker reimagining and is definitely an NA book when Dace and Arionna’s relationship progresses. This book also has some twists in the mythology reveals that give the romance element a larger meaning.

Beware if: you don’t like the general set-up of paranormal books. My warning about characters goes double here, I think.

Rating: 3.5 – the beginning of the book is closer to a 3, but the mythology reveals elevates the later half to a 4.