Magic Rises, Ilona Andrews
Magic Rises really ups the stakes. It opens with a serious dilemma for the Pack being made really crystal clear to Kate: the likelihood of the Pack’s children to ‘go loup’, at which point the pack have to kill them. To make sure we really notice, one of the children affected is a friend of Kate’s adopted daughter, and then the Pack receive an offer: go and mediate issues with a woman who is pregnant by two different men, whose father uses her as a way to control and divide territory. In return, you’ll get a load of the stuff you need to drastically reduce the odds of loupism.
It’s a trap, of course, and the trap is really well baited. The only question is really who it’s set for, and of course, it turns out that this advances the overarching plot as well: Kate’s heritage comes more and more to the fore, and her relationship with Curran has to weather that. At the same time, there’s a price paid within the story for every advance they gain, and lots of impossible choices to make.
My main frustration is that Kate and Curran start being idiots again. Communication, people. It’s not a myth. Use your mouths and talk to each other. Argh! Even if they don’t agree on tactics and so on, I wish their personal relationship felt less shaky and superficial at moments like this. I believe that Kate needs Curran, loves him. Now make the two of ’em act like it!
Also, the whole Andrea-and-Raphael issue is just all of a sudden solved. I’m guessing this is the point where it’d have helped to read Gunmetal Magic.
It’s a really fun read, though: it just races along at breakneck pace, and you never know exactly what’s going to happen next. The writing team that is Ilona Andrews don’t pull their punches.
One Ostara Sunrise, Elora Bishop
This book features another holiday with Isabella and Emily, and another instance of the two of them being caught up in big events — in this case, mythical events involving nothing less important than the changing of seasons. The relationship between the two of them is sweet, as usual, but it doesn’t really expand on the world or even the backstories of the two girls.
The main attraction is the warmth of the two characters and their relationship, and their deepening harmony with the world around them. It feels less substantial than the second book, and it doesn’t further any of the plotlines, though, so it does fall a little flat for me. In the collected version, there is also a short story about Alice’s first meeting with Isabella and how they pair up, which at least answers some of my curiosity about Alice!
One Imbolc Gloaming, Elora Bishop
Somewhat to my disappointment, the second book of the Benevolence trilogy doesn’t expand on any of the gaps I felt in the previous book. Instead, it moves away from Benevolence for a while, as Emily and Isabella attend traditional Imbolc festivities. The world is expanded in terms of showing us more locations, more kinds of magic, and more of Isabella’s friends and family. It also gives us more time with the couple, as their relationship deepens — though it has been a bit insta-love. Still, for once it’s a lesbian couple having insta-love, and they’re cute, so why not? We can make exceptions, right?
It also features the tragic love story of a long-dead abbess and a knight, who are reunited through Isabella and Emily’s efforts. That part is a bit, well, flowery, but it works.
The scenes Bishop describes glitter with the winter cold and the warmth of friendship; that aspect is definitely done really well. I’m still curious about various aspects of the first story, and I’m also beginning to be very curious about Alice, Isabella’s cat familiar. She’s just been a sidekick so far, but there are hints at an inner life and outside personality for her, and I want it.
One Solstice Night, Elora Bishop
For some reason, I never got round to reading the two books which follow this one, so I’ve reread this one now. It’s a very short novella — shorter, I think, than the two which follow — and so it was a very quick read. Some of the novelty has worn off from Elora Bishop’s work to me; there was a magic the first time I read this in it being some of the first unrepentant lesbian romance I read, and I think I liked it more for that. Bishop’s introduction about the lack of queer people in the books I read as a child ran true; the only ones I remember were all evil, or died.
One Solstice Night is, by contrast, a little delicate sugary confection. Isabella is a mediocre witch who has slipped up a few too many times, and has in fact been chased out of towns by a screaming mob (but this is dealt with fairly lightly). She comes to the small town of Benevolence hoping for a new start, and attracted by the fact that she only has to do one spell each year. And there she meets an outcast woman, shunned because of an ancestor’s doings, and befriends her.
Naturally, things come to a head and the spell doesn’t go right, the villagers aren’t pleased by the love fest between their witch and their outcast, but love prevails. I’m quite interested to see if the other books go into more of the background: what exactly the Wolf was, why Emily’s ancestor damaged the protective spell, etc. The lack of explanation of a motive behind that is what made this feel rather shallow on the second read.
Our Lady of Pain, M.C. Beaton
This is no worse (or better) than the other books in the series, really. It manages to keep up a ridiculous will-they-won’t-they about both main couples, and the same string of coincidences, the same issue where the supposedly smart main characters make silly mistakes. Daisy’s storyline is more interesting than Rose’s, really, but in the latter half of the book I was just rooooolling my eyes at the manufactured drama.
This isn’t a good series. It’s fluff, fine if you like this sort of thing and okay for a quiet evening, but it’s not substantial enough for me in any way — not plot, mystery, character development or setting.
Mortal Heart, Robin LaFevers
After enjoying the first two books, I expected quite a bit from Mortal Heart. I love the way the series uses history and blends it with myth and fantasy elements; I enjoy the way that it takes a unique look at the figure of Death and what, in fact, the god of death might be like. The first two books have shown us two aspects of Mortain, in the form of women called to serve him. This book shows us another, and perhaps the most intimate yet.
I was enjoying this a lot until the point where a certain reveal is made, and then it just felt… over the top, out of nowhere. It just didn’t feel like it fit. I mean, we know it’s a world where gods are real and their presence is felt, but… to this degree? I shouldn’t say too much about it for fear of spoilers, but that aspect definitely made this my least favourite of the trilogy, despite Annith being an interesting character.
This book also deals with the issues of the Abbess and what exactly is going on there — why she’s doing what she is, why she doesn’t seem to be serving Mortain (as the heroines of the previous two books rightly felt), and it also solidifies some of the connections between characters, and shows us them anew. It even manages to humanise the Abbess, a little, which is hard going with her actions in this book and the previous two.
Overall, I think this was the weakest of the trilogy, because that reveal jars and because I think I prefer Ismae and Sybella as characters. But it was still entertaining and hard to put down.
Airs Above the Ground, Mary Stewart
I misremembered this one somewhat, as I’d expected more time spent in the castle that actually only comes in about halfway through. It does speak well of Stewart’s usual ability to evoke an atmosphere; the castle/hotel works perfectly, and so does the circus. There’s not as much of a sense of landscape, though; it feels like it could be set anywhere, at least until the ending with the night time chase and the train lines on the mountain.
I remembered all too well why the romance in this bothered me. The couple are already married, and not estranged, but it turns out that he’s been keeping a big secret. I did like that she played along, didn’t blow his cover — Stewart’s heroines are often better at this sort of thing than you’d expect, even if it is in a rather ‘I’ll do anything for my man’ sort of way. I don’t like that he’s hidden all this from her and she thinks that’s okay, that they barely talk about it before he’s forgiven; I hate that suddenly he gets to beat people up ‘for’ her and that’s romantic. Gah. Bad taste in my mouth. And worse because she likes it.
Not my favourite Stewart romance at all; it lacks a lot of the charm. The saving grace is the horses: that story is poignant and enough to get invested in. The ending is, thus, perfect. Just keep the main couple out of it and finish with the horse.
All For Love, Jane Aiken Hodge
If you’re a fan of stories like Georgette Heyer’s and Mary Stewart’s romances, Jane Aiken Hodge’s All For Love should be right up your alley. Featuring a historical setting and context, it follows two cousins, alike enough to be twins, who switch places while one executes a madcap scheme to rescue Napoleon, while preserving her reputation and giving herself an alibi in the form of her cousin’s presence. Of course, it stretches credulity a bit, as all such plots would — but it doesn’t stretch it too far; actually, a fair number of people figure out that Juliet is only impersonating Josephine.
The process of Juliet’s relationship with Josephine’s husband is sweet; the way he carefully provides for her without ever pushing boundaries too much or letting her know that he knows she’s not Josephine, and the way they come to care for each other and refuse to do anything about it, because of course, he’s married to Josephine. Then, of course, someone from Josephine’s past shows up to overturn things once more…
It’s all reliant on heaps of lucky coincidence, of course, and Josephine is such an unpleasant person in some ways that you know, really, how it’s going to end — I never really had any tension that it wasn’t going to work out, though I did find myself wondering how it would work out. The writing isn’t as witty as Heyer’s, nor is there a sense of place evoked as in Stewart’s work, but all the same I got quite invested and very much enjoyed the read.
Oh, and if duels and secret plots entertain you, there’s plenty of that alongside the romance.
Saga Volume One, Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples
The first volume of Saga had me hooked right away: something about the clean lines of the art, the way it perfectly brings across character and expression, to begin with. Also the quirkier details, like the pictures that show on Prince Robot’s monitor. But also the story: the offbeat narration by a character who has only just been born at the start of the story, the set-up of the worlds fighting, the Robot kingdom assisting, etc. Alanna and Marko’s relationship is believably silly: they’re ridiculously in love, they’re not always best-suited for each other, but they’re muddling through anyway.
It’s also funny in general — not always in the most “tasteful” or “refined” way, as some of the sex-related humour shows, but believably. You can like these characters, it says, because even though one has wings and the other has horns, they’re dweebs like you.
Snobbery With Violence, M.C. Beaton
I wasn’t a fan of M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series at all, so I was quite prepared to dislike Snobbery With Violence intensely. That might have been better for my TBR list, but it turned out that Snobbery With Violence hits the spot for me. It’s not Sayers, of course; it’s lacking in that incisiveness and depth of characters. But it is a fun quick read with characters you can more or less get along with: sometimes Rose is too spoilt, and Harry Cathcart too… blandly typical. I actually liked the side characters of Beckett and Daisy more; I like their relationship to each other and to their bosses.
Lady Rose’s family, well, they’re pretty colourless and despicable in a hands-off, self-absorbed way that is neither engaging nor particularly original. In general, the characters around the main four feel like props. The mystery, too, felt like that. It’s all relatively by-the-numbers. Sometimes the things which happen are just too silly — the example I can think of is from the second book, but at times there’s a cascade of events like a comedy of errors which just… makes the book feel like it’s intended to be a comedy somehow.
All of this is essentially damning with faint praise: I wouldn’t particularly recommend these books to someone specific, but since I have them, I’m reading them all and enjoying them. If you’re looking for something light with a bit of historical romance and a bit of mystery, this might be your thing. Objectively, it should probably be a two-star rating, but subjectively, I enjoyed it quite a bit.