War Witch by Layla Nash

WarWitchCoverWar Witch
by Layla Nash
2017

This was a BookBub find and it was a fun urban fantasy with witches and werewolves. It’s set fifteen years after The Breaking, when supernatural powers and creatures were revealed to the rest of humanity, and five years after The Truce was implemented at the end of an exceptionally bloody 10-year-long civil war in which everyone was fighting everyone else and a lot of people died.

Out main character, Lily, was an incredibly powerful witch at the forefront of the fighting during the civil war and is now trying to find some semblance of peace and wanting nothing to do with the current power structure, staying as unaligned as she possibly can from the many, many factions still struggling to figure out their place. Nash has done some amazing world building with the concept that there’s the truce between humans and supernatural beings, but each side is made up of groups that contain smaller groups that contain individuals and pretty much all of them have their own conflicts and alliances and motives. And five years is a very short time for peace while ten years is a very long time for a civil war. So the whole society is extremely fraught.

And into this situation some witches work illegal demon magic and Lily is the main suspect. (In part because she’s been hiding that she can and has summoned demons, but not this particular time.)

In addition to the world building, I also kind of love the romance side plot. It’s really obvious the Lily, an unaligned witch trying to lay low, and Leif, an extremely high ranked werewolf enforcer for the current power structure, are attracted to each other. However, they are also in conflict with each other because they can sympathize with but not abide by each other’s political stances. It’s just a really interesting dynamic and I enjoyed seeing how Nash worked it.

What I wasn’t so happy with was how it ended with a clear set-up for a second book. I’m increasingly developing a pet peeve against books that spend their final chapter(s) setting up the next book rather than completing the current book. Also, this book doesn’t appear to have a sequel yet anyway. But anyway, I found the end of the book annoying, but the world building was excellent and the character interactions were both fascinating and hilarious.

 

online comics / graphic novels

I never quite know what term to use for comic strips or comic books or graphic novels now that the medium has expanded so wildly beyond what those terms originally referred to. But I’ve got two online comic strips that I highly recommend because they’re charming and delightful and I just love the characters and the stories and the artwork.

First up:

WildelifeWilde Life
by Pascalle Lepas
2014 – ongoing

The plot is: “A graphic novel about a writer who rents a haunted house from Craigslist and makes not-friends with a werewolf.”

It’s essentially a series of short stories set in a rural town around the main guy who’s rented a house for a while to just get away from his previous life that’s mostly not mentioned. The illustrations are excellent (and just keep getting better) but the characters are where this really shines. Every character is so very much themselves and so very delightful. (And don’t forget to check for roll-over text comments from the author on later pages because they’re pretty darn funny too.)

The author has just finished the sixth chapter / plot arc, and it’s so incredibly delightful and I really hope she does another kickstarter so I can order hardcopy versions. In the meantime, you, gentle reader, should immediately go check this out: http://www.wildelifecomic.com/comic/1

Second up:

powerballadPower Ballad
by Molly Brooks
2017 – ongoing

This only has eight issues out so far but it’s scheduled to be updated weekly and those eight issues are an utter delight!

Meera is the personal assistant to international pop star / masked vigilante Carina. So while Carina does music videos and fights crime batman-style, Meera tries to make sure appointments are made and kept. And they both have adorable pining crushes on each other but neither have said anything (yet!) and it’s just too cute for words.

Also, the illustrations are amazing and doing some really interesting things, because first they’re working with the online medium by displaying each issue as a single page down which the reader scrolls rather than trying to mimic a hardcopy comic book (at some point I think it would be really interesting to see if hardcopy comics can be made on scrolls to mimic websites), and second, they’re illustrated with just a couple of colors in a handful of shades, which gives it a sort of quick-sketch first impression while still being amazingly effective and detailed.

So check it out here: http://www.webtoons.com/en/drama/power-ballad/list?title_no=987

 

A Net of Dawn and Bones

chancyA Net of Dawn and Bones
By C. R. Chancy
2015

This is a self-published book available on Amazon, written by one of my favorite fanfic authors, who described it as:

Urban fantasy for anyone who’s stared at the latest vampiric/werewolf/whatever supposed “love” interest, and prayed the main character would have the common sense to set them on fire.

It really was a joy, with a great deal of awesome world building, and wonderful characters and interesting plot. In addition to the general fantasy elements, it also has a lot of religious exploration, which is something I enjoy a great deal. Plus a significant amount of interesting historical information is inserted into the story, too, to the extend that there’s a bibliography at the end of the book with recommended non-fiction books.

One bit of lovely backstory is the premise that a lot of people wind up in Hell –- via original sin or being cursed or whatnot — who don’t really deserve it. Our main character is a “Hell raider”, who breaks into Hell and then back out again, carrying souls with her to be released to face a more fair judgment. The book starts with our main character in Hell, discovering a rather worrying link to Earth that will need to be fixed from the Earth side of things.

Meanwhile, on Earth, the backstory is more like that of the Anita Black series: that various supernatural creatures have revealed themselves to the public and are now granted citizenship and legal protections. And the police are struggling a bit to figure out how this all works out. This is an awesome premise, and I’m still somewhat bitter about how awful the Anita Black series got after a really wonderful start. Chancy is doing something similar, but doing it right.

And thus our Hell raider and our local police attempt to work together to stop a supernatural evil. Yay!

It’s fun and relaxing while also being fascinating and surprisingly informative, and addresses a lack in the vampire/werewolf fantasy genre, for heroines who aren’t going to fall for beautiful monsters.

My one caveat to a positive review is the presence of a few casual anti-Islamic descriptions which threw me off, both for the prejudice and for it’s offhandedness, given that most of her other statements tend to be more backed up with either research or world-building. The anti-Islam sentiment had neither, alas, and I honestly think her editor should have removed them for literary as well as ethical reasons.

That said, I have a lot of experience reading and enjoying problematic things and it only came up twice and I, at least, was able to easily put that aside and enjoy the rest of the book for what it does right.

The first chapter and a half are readable in a preview on Amazon if you’re interested.

Hopcross Jilly and Shifting Shadows

By Patricia Briggs

Book Cover: Hopcross JillyRebecca bought me Hopcross Jilly, a Mercy Thompson graphic novel, by Patricia Briggs for my birthday, and it was awesome because I hadn’t even known it existed! It focuses primarily on Mercy’s stepdaughter Jesse, who is struggling to find her place in high school now that she is known as the daughter of the local werewolf alpha. I’m trying to be as spoiler-free as possible, so excuse the coyness, but the events also take place after the big showdown with the fae, so the main antagonist is fae.

Which is where my problem comes in. From just about the beginning of the series, I’ve been on the fae’s side in their struggle with humans. In Briggs’ world, the fae have been treated somewhat similarly (though better) to how the US treated Native Americans, with extreme prejudice and isolation. So, when they have finally taken as much as they are going to take, it feels like an underdog fighting back, even though they are in fact murdering people. I found myself on the unsupportable side of a debate with Rebecca in which I was trying to hand-wave away the (fictional) murder of innocent children.

Anyway, it was fun to see more of Jesse, who is usually very much a side character, and the fae villain was quite interesting, and it had a satisfying ending, even if it wasn’t as pro-fae as I would have liked. I do also want to qualify this by saying that Briggs is clearly a novelist, not a graphic novelist, so there are times when the action and dialogue gets a little muddled since she isn’t writing in quite the screenplay style that a graphic novel demands.

Book Cover: Shifting ShadowsI have also been reminded that I completely forgot to review Briggs’ Shifting Shadows, which is unforgiveable considering how long I’ve been whining for something exactly like this. Shifting Shadows collects all of Patricia Briggs’ short stories in a single volume, including the Alpha and Omega novella that kicks off that series, as well as some brand new stories. The  new stories feature Mercy, of course, but also a variety of side characters that haven’t been given much backstory before, including Ben, one of Adam’s least pleasant pack members; Ariana, the fae with whom Mercy’s ex, Samuel, falls in love; and Kara, a young girl werewolf mentioned very briefly in the second Mercy novel.

And, of course, it contains all of my favorites from a variety of anthologies, like “Seeing Eye,” in which a werewolf and a witch pair up to bring down an evil witch coven; “Fairy Gifts,” about a vampire summoned to save a trapped fairy; and “The Star of David,” a Christmas story about David Christiansen, a werewolf mercenary from the first Mercy Thompson novel. I am just so happy to have them all collected in one place!

—Anna

Magic Breaks

By Ilona Andrews

Book CoverEach of the first three books of Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series was better than the last, but once they passed that trilogy mark, each subsequent book got a little more joyless and plodding. Magic Breaks is the seventh book (of what was initially planned to be a seven-book run, but has now been extended to ten planned books) and the first to be released in hard cover,* so it was the first that I decided not to buy and instead checked out from the library. By halfway through the book, I was starting to think this might be the last book of the series I read at all.

I had initially been attracted to the series because it has such an unusual approach to the vampire/werewolf genre and it was laugh-out-loud funny. The last several books have lost pretty much all humor, just sort of slogging through long gory descriptions of violence. The first half of this book felt like a bit of a chore.

However, much like Patricia Brigg’s vampire/werewolf series, this one ends with such a game-changer that I am once again hopeful for the series. The violence continues to escalate, until things (temporarily) resolve in a very interesting way that should clear out some of the distracting clutter of previous story lines in a very interesting and potentially very funny way.

—Anna

*Unfortunately, as much as the authors and publisher try to market this hard cover edition as a possible introduction for new readers, it really isn’t a stand-alone book, and has to be read in the order of the series.

Magic Rises

By Ilona Andrews

Book Cover: Magic RisesThis is the sixth book in Ilona Andrew’s Kate Daniels series, and Rebecca has previously introduced the series here.* It is my favorite in the over-abundance of series about spunky women in a werewolf- and vampire-populated world, but to my mind the series peaked at book 3 and went downhill from there. (As an aside, Rebecca and I had a lengthy discussion about whether this is a common phenomena; are trilogies so standard because authors tend to lose steam after the third book? There are a lot of series that support that thesis, and only a few that belie it.)

Maggie Q as Nikita

As an aside on first impressions, when I first got the book, I was somewhat taken aback by the cover. The featured woman looks somewhat different than previous illustrations of Kate Daniels, which is fine, artists change visions, etc., etc. But, doesn’t she look strikingly similar to someone else instead? I feel like, as an artist, you should take your inspiration from wherever you like, but maybe don’t make it so blatant.

A very mild spoiler for the series: book 3 settled a romantic tension that had run through all three initial books, and all the subsequent books have had relationship drama that I don’t care for, and increased violence, possibly to counter-balance the relationship drama, now that I think about it. A lot of the violence, too, was starting to be directed toward various magical (and deadly) creatures that populate the world, and I have a big problem with violence against animals, even fictional ones. A true hypocrite, I don’t have nearly the same problem with violence against people, which is why I was fine with the earlier books. I was still committed to the series, but was not anticipating this book with the eagerness I had earlier in the series.

In fact, this book way exceeded my expectations, and I believe rejuvenated the series a bit in a very clever way. Andrews changes the setting from Atlanta, Georgia, where all previous books are set, all the way to Europe, so there is a freshness just in the change of scene. With the new setting, she also constrains the number of characters, which had been expanding exponentially with each book, until the action started to get muddled with so many players. Magic Rises is pared down to just a cleanly written and plotted, extraordinarily fun supernatural adventure, and I am just so, so happy to have my favorite fluff series back.

One caveat to all of my praises: I went back to the earlier books to double-check a minor character’s name, and it reminded me of the casual humor and one-liners that made the early books such a pleasure. As the books have ratcheted up the drama and tension, that humor has mostly disappeared and I miss it. I almost feel like that as the authors have become more accomplished, they perhaps have edited out those parts as being less polished, and that makes me sad.

* There has been some update in information from this original review. The series has been expanded to ten books instead of the previously planned seven, when the authors realized that they would not be able to wrap it up conclusively in just two more books.

Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs

Frost_burnedFrost Burned
by Patricia Briggs
2013

There are a lot of girl-vampire-werewolf series out there, with a wide range regarding quality. Frost Burned is the most recent book in one of those series, that started out excellent, backslide into generic, but has managed to recover.

This is the tenth* book set in this particular universe, the seventh that follows the character Mercy Thompson, and I was impressed. The first few books in this series (Moon Called, Blood Bound, and Iron Kissed) are the best ones, while some of the most recent ones (Bone Crossed and River Marked) have felt rather bland, like Briggs was forced to write them in order to fulfill a contract, without having any particular plan or goal with them. In Frost Burned, Briggs is back with energy and interest.

I’m guessing it’s due to the major happening that concluded her most recent book set in this universe, but following a different set of characters. The Alpha and Omega series only has three books so far (Cry Wolf, Hunting Ground, and Fair Game) and these keep on getting better. The end of Fair Game was so spectacular, in fact, it drew me back into reading the Mercy Thompson series, just so that I could see what happens next in this universe.

And, without giving any spoilers: there is definitely a lot of fall-out.

I’m very excited about Briggs revamping (hee: re-VAMPing!) this universe, and think it was probably pretty important that she started alternating which series she was writing, so she could approach the characters with excitement rather than getting bored with them. However, I’m not entirely sure how readable any of her books are, at this point, without going back and reading the earlier ones.

Frost Burned did a pretty good job of filling in the blanks for what happened before, but it was enough that I think I need to go back and read the earlier Mercy Thompson book that I skipped entirely (Silver Borne).

Although, if you want to jump into this universe without having read any of the previous books, I would start out with Fair Game, just because it was a good book, delightful characters, the climax/epilog is really spectacular, and it sets up a whole new situation that is going to continue percolating through any future books in this universe.

* Or eleventh, if you count a novella in an anthology. Or fourteen, if you count short stories in anthologies.