Genre: Fantasy

Review – Mislaid in Parts Half-Known

Posted April 2, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Mislaid in Parts Half-Known

Mislaid in Parts Half-Known

by Seanan McGuire

Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 146
Series: Wayward Children #9
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

Antsy is the latest student to pass through the doors at Eleanor West's School for Wayward Children.

When the school’s (literally irresistible) mean girl realizes that Antsy's talent for finding absolutely anything may extend to doors, Antsy is forced to flee in the company of a small group of friends, looking for a way back to the Shop Where the Lost Things Go to be sure that Vineta and Hudson are keeping their promise.

Along the way, they will travel from a world which hides painful memories that cut as sharply as its beauty, to a land that time wasn’t yet old enough to forget—and more than one student's life will change forever.

I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

For a book that promised me dinosaurs, Seanan McGuire’s Mislaid in Parts Half-Known felt like a bit of a swizz. The dinosaur world was only a tiny part of the story, which was really the end of Antsy’s story, as begun in Lost in the Moment and Found. There are bits of other characters’ stories (a little here for Sumi, a little there for Kade, a drop for Cora), but it’s really about Antsy’s story, and a little bit about expanding the world as we know it, showing us what a nexus is and what it can do.

Honestly, it feels like we’ve got a little further from the idea of a school for children who fell into other worlds than I like? The rotating cast of characters feels like “monster of the week”, but we’re spending so little time actually at the school, and Eleanor doesn’t always appear. And I’m deeply ambivalent about Kade’s position here, always the best man and never the groom.

So I’m wondering where our questers will go next, but I also wonder if I’m tiring a bit of the formula?

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The October Faction, vol 3

Posted March 28, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – The October Faction, vol 3

The October Faction

by Steve Niles, Damien Worm

Genres: Fantasy, Graphic Novels
Pages: 139
Series: The October Faction #3
Rating: two-stars
Synopsis:

Merle Cope and his frightful family have been destroyed and Fred Allan has been rescued. Now that the kids have proven themselves, the whole Allan family is back in business, ready to take on the monstrous, paranormal, and downright strange.

I’m still not really sure what to say about Steve Niles’ The October Faction — it just doesn’t get beyond “okay” for me, yet it is a little bit addictive to keep on steamrolling through the volumes. The fast pace helps: I raced through the second, third and fourth volume, reading them pretty much back to back.

There is a little bit of a development with a certain relationship here, which is kinda cute and makes a lot of sense — though there’s been a lot of rushing with the character development, this didn’t come as a surprise.

And again, the art is kinda growing on me. It makes perfect sense for the story, at any rate.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Emily Wilde’s Map of the Otherlands

Posted March 25, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 3 Comments

Review – Emily Wilde’s Map of the Otherlands

Emily Wilde's Map of the Otherlands

by Heather Fawcett

Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 337
Series: Emily Wilde #2
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

When mysterious faeries from other realms appear at her university, curmudgeonly professor Emily Wilde must uncover their secrets before it’s too late, in this heartwarming, enchanting second installment of the Emily Wilde series.

Emily Wilde is a genius scholar of faerie folklore who just wrote the world’s first comprehensive encyclopaedia of faeries. She’s learned many of the secrets of the Hidden Ones on her adventures . . . and also from her infuriatingly charming fellow scholar Wendell Bambleby.

Because Bambleby is more than brilliant and unbearably handsome. He’s an exiled faerie king on the run from his murderous mother and in search of a door back to his realm. And despite Emily’s feelings for Bambleby, she’s not ready to accept his proposal of marriage: Loving one of the Fair Folk comes with secrets and dangers.

She also has a new project to focus on: a map of the realms of faerie. While she is preparing her research, Bambleby lands her in trouble yet again, when assassins sent by his mother invade Cambridge. Now Bambleby and Emily are on another adventure, this time to the picturesque Austrian Alps, where Emily believes they may find the door to Bambleby’s realm and the key to freeing him from his family’s dark plans.

But with new relationships for the prickly Emily to navigate and dangerous Folk lurking in every forest and hollow, Emily must unravel the mysterious workings of faerie doors and of her own heart.

After finishing the first book in this series, I was eager to grab Emily Wilde’s Map of the Otherlands, by Heather Fawcett. I still dispute that it can be considered “cosy”, but it was a really fun read and one which my brain needed at the time. It still bears comparison with the Isabella Trent books by Marie Brennan, but mostly because the two women are both scholars and have some similarities in that. Emily Wilde is very much her own woman, even if she shares Isabella’s “deranged practicality”, and Wendell too is a delight, as are the glimpses of the Fae world — capricious, illogical and often vicious as it is.

The story features a new location, of course, taking them far from Cambridge once more to encounter new faerie. Two new major players join the cast as well: Farris Rose, another scholar (who isn’t on great terms with either of them), and Ariadne, who is Emily’s niece. That adds some interesting new tensions, now that Wendell and Emily’s relationship has firmed up a bit and become less adversarial. And of course, I continue to really enjoy Emily’s fascination with the Fae, and her willingness to do hare-brained things in the pursuit of knowledge — and ultimately, now, for Wendell.

Sometimes the journal format breaks down a little bit as a narrative method, but it is managed very gamely for the most part. I particularly liked that it snuck a little surprise on us through Emily’s fragmented, troubled memories while she’s in the court.

…More, please?

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Britannia, vol 1

Posted March 24, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Britannia, vol 1

Britannia

by Peter Milligan, Juan José Ryp, Jordie Bellaire

Genres: Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Historical Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 112
Series: Britannia #1
Rating: one-star
Synopsis:

On the fringes of civilization, the world's first detective is about to make an unholy discovery...

Ruled by the Fates. Manipulated by the Gods. Commanded by Caesar. In the year 65 A.D., one's destiny was not his own. At the height of Nero's reign, a veteran of Rome's imperial war machine has been dispatched to the farthest reaches of the colonies to investigate unnatural happenings... In the remote outpost of Britannia, Antonius Axia – the First Detective – will become Rome's only hope to reassert control over the empire's most barbaric frontier... and keep the monsters that bridge the line between myth and mystery at bay...

I’m not entirely sure what to make of some of the very positive reviews of Britannia. I really didn’t get along with it, but I guess it’s a matter of taste. Personally, I found that it was very heavy on male-gazey stuff (did we really need to see multiple terrified naked or near-naked women? methinks someone’s kink is on show), and while the art tells the story well, it wasn’t a style I really enjoyed, and sometimes I had trouble telling the characters apart.

As far as the plot goes… well. I’m very eyebrow-raise-y about the concept of the Vestal Virgins having a special codex that mostly teaches you how to be Sherlock Holmes (but has maybe a few magical effects as well? hard to tell how seriously to take those screens and whether there’s some metaphors going on there). Referring to Antonius as the “detectioner” just… cringe. I cringed deep in my soul.

And it didn’t feel totally coherent, to be honest. What is Orkus exactly? How are the different manifestations related? Obviously these are questions that might well be answered in later volumes, but I just wasn’t sure of the ground we’re starting from.

Overall, there are some bits here that could’ve been intriguing, but in the end, not for me. I won’t continue reading the series.

Rating: 1/5

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Review – Lost in the Moment and Found

Posted March 18, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 1 Comment

Review – Lost in the Moment and Found

Lost in the Moment and Found

by Seanan McGuire

Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 208
Series: Wayward Children #8
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

Welcome to the Shop Where the Lost Things Go.

If you ever lost a sock, you’ll find it here.

If you ever wondered about favorite toy from childhood... it’s probably sitting on a shelf in the back.

And the headphones that you swore that this time you’d keep safe? You guessed it….

Antoinette has lost her father. Metaphorically. He’s not in the shop, and she’ll never see him again. But when Antsy finds herself lost (literally, this time), she finds that however many doors open for her, leaving the Shop for good might not be as simple as it sounds.

And stepping through those doors exacts a price.

I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Picking up Seanan McGuire’s Lost in the Moment and Found, I wasn’t sure whether I’d love it. On paper, this series has so much that I love, but it goes some dark places at times, and the warning about the situation that Antsy ends up in made me wonder if this was going to be another one which cut too close to home.

For me, it wasn’t, but it’s worth knowing that Antsy ends up in a difficult situation where her step-father convinces her that her mother won’t believe her if she says anything against him, while making her feel deeply uncomfortable (and also involving an obvious threat of child sexual abuse). In addition, Antsy loses her father very young. So it’s important to know that going in, for some people; as McGuire’s initial note says, Antsy runs before the bad things really start happening, though.

There is a fair bit about that and the build-up to why Antsy runs away, and as such I suppose I’d be happy if the book spent a bit more time in the shop. It sounds like a fascinating world and I wanted Antsy to explore it a little more, and to explore some of the other worlds with her. Instead we turn to the price she’s paying for the joy — and as ever, it’s a harsh one.

Obviously, the end of the book tells us where the main plot thread that runs through the odd-numbered novellas is going next, or at least, that Antsy’s going to have something to do with it. Given that she brings a bit of fresh blood into the questing group, that could be interesting!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Stone Star: In the Spotlight

Posted March 17, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Stone Star: In the Spotlight

Stone Star: In the Spotlight

by Jim Zub, Max Dunbar, Espen Grundetjern, Marshall Dillon

Genres: Fantasy, Graphic Novels
Pages: 123
Series: Stone Star #2
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

The nomadic space station called Stone Star brings gladiatorial entertainment to ports across the galaxy. Inside this gargantuan vessel of tournaments and temptations, foragers and fighters struggle to survive. A young warrior named Dail has been drawn into the ring and is trying to prove himself in the Grand Arena, but there are forces on the station determined to see him destroyed as revenge for his father's fighting legacy. Stone Star is a prison and a palace. It's a strange and dangerous home to orphans, criminals, and stowaways all trying to survive, fighting for a bit of fame and fortune before their time runs out.

Stone Star is an action-adventure spectacle bursting with colorful characters and pulse-pounding action! Grab your weapons, gritters, and join the fray!

The second volume of Jim Zub et al’s Stone Star went in a direction that was a bit surprising to me, and that actually piqued my interest a bit more — the plotline was fairly typical up to that point, and then it took what could’ve obviously been a plot device to drive characters apart and ruin everything and… okay, it still caused problems, but not in the most typical way. It gives us a bit more of a glimpse at the character of Volness and what he’s done, which is pretty cool.

Otherwise, the characters etc all continue to be exactly what you’d expect from this kind of story, the story beats are all pretty typical, etc. The art’s okay, and some of the character designs are pretty neat. I’m not totally in love, but I have to give it props for focusing on communication to build trust. Too often lack of communication (“if I tell him, it’ll only ruin things”) is a heavy-handed way to drive conflict in the story.

Plus, there are some interesting hints as to what Dail’s powers might mean. I’d read another volume if it came my way.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Magic Stars

Posted March 14, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Magic Stars

Magic Stars

by Ilona Andrews

Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 80
Series: Kate Daniels
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

Scarred, solitary Derek Gaunt has separated from his Pack, and is truly a lone wolf. With no family he answers to no one; but is fiercely loyal to a chosen few. So, when several of those close to him are murdered, he’ll stop at nothing to hunt their killer through the magic-drenched streets of Atlanta.

Never one to be left on the sidelines, equally determined—some might say stubborn—Julie Lennart-Olsen soon joins in his pursuit; and what began as revenge turns into a race to save the city. Their search pits them against powers they never imagined and magic so old, it predates history. It may cost Derek his life, but there are things for which even he would risk everything.

Ilona Andrews’ Magic Stars is a fun short story from Derek’s point of view, featuring Derek and Julie. They fight crime! Well. They avenge supernatural murders, track down a couple of mysteries, and get themselves into big trouble — just as Kate and Curran would want. Wait a sec, no…

It’s a fun little taster of how Julie’s going to handle life, and also a glimpse at what she’s intending, where she sees herself in the world. She’s in touch with Roland, she knows about the caveats and side effects of what Kate did to save her, and she’s ready to grow up and be a bit of a wrecking ball herself, Kate-style.

There’s not a lot here to dig one’s teeth into, but it’s a different look at the familiar characters, and adds a little bit more colour to their world.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The October Faction, vol 2

Posted March 11, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – The October Faction, vol 2

The October Faction

by Steve Niles, Damien Worm

Genres: Fantasy, Graphic Novels
Pages: 140
Series: The October Faction #2
Rating: two-stars
Synopsis:

The Allan family has inducted Dante, a.k.a. Robot Face, into the fold and Geoff and Vivian have begun their training in the family business; monster hunting. All looks well for the Allans, but Sheriff Chambers is slowly catching on to their occult activities. Collects issues #7-12.

I’m kinda hanging in there with The October Faction by Steve Niles et al. This second volume didn’t really assuage my fears about how rushed the first volume felt, or add a lot to the character development, so in a way it’s not really what I’m looking for.

That said, now that I’m used to the artwork it does seem to fit with the story so well it feels wrong to complain. Though sometimes it is so dark and stylised that it’s not 100% clear what’s happening, in places.

All the same, clearly something’s got me curious enough to keep going with reading these. There’s something just compelling enough about the art and the characters, and wondering what bananas thing is going to happen next.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries

Posted March 7, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 4 Comments

Review – Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries

Emily Wilde's Encyclopaedia of Faeries

by Heather Fawcett

Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Romance
Pages: 315
Series: Emily Wilde #1
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

Cambridge professor Emily Wilde is good at many things: She is the foremost expert on the study of faeries. She is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world's first encyclopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people. She could never make small talk at a party—or even get invited to one. And she prefers the company of her books, her dog, Shadow, and the Fair Folk to other people.

So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby, who manages to charm the townsfolk, get in the middle of Emily's research, and utterly confound and frustrate her.

But as Emily gets closer and closer to uncovering the secrets of the Hidden Ones — the most elusive of all faeries — lurking in the shadowy forest outside the town, she also finds herself on the trail of another mystery: Who is Wendell Bambleby, and what does he really want? To find the answer, she'll have to unlock the greatest mystery of all — her own heart.

In getting me to give Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries (Heather Fawcett) a shot, the key was the comparison to Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons. And it’s true: Emily Wilde definitely has a kinship with Isabella Trent, and I think they’d respect each other, and there is a similar sort of shape to the stories in some ways.

I was also promised something “whimsical” and “cosy” by the cover copy, and I have to say that I really wouldn’t call it those things. It takes faeries seriously, and that means taking seriously the cruelty of the Fae in many, many stories. It means missing children, sacrifice, compulsion, and blood. Emily’s research gets her swept up in a bigger story, and her main tool is her encyclopaedic knowledge of fairytales, her ability to know how the narratives work, and what to expect.

There is also a romance element, and that one is playful and full of banter. I didn’t really enjoy that aspect at first, wondering how it’d work out, but by the end I’d bought into it, because it doesn’t require Emily to be anything but herself — that is, prickly and awkward, and never quite sure how to handle other people.

Emily herself is a fun character. Though I said she’s like Marie Brennan’s Isabella (and certainly you could talk about the “deranged practicality” of both of them), and I can see both of them falling into exactly the same traps, she’s not a carbon copy, nor as reckless, and her relationship with Bambleby is quite different to Isabella’s relationships with those around her. There’s also less emphasis on geopolitical circumstances — they’re both scholars, but they don’t move through the world in quite the same way. At least not so far!

I’m keen to pick up the next book and see where it goes. I wonder if there’ll be any recurring characters? It would seem unlikely for most of them to turn up anywhere but their own home, but Emily certainly got swept up in a big story, and you never know what those will do.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Stone Star: Fight or Flight

Posted March 3, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Stone Star: Fight or Flight

Stone Star: Fight or Flight

by Jim Zub, Max Dunbar, Marshall Dillon, Espen Grundetjern

Genres: Fantasy, Graphic Novels
Pages: 128
Series: Stone Star #1
Rating: two-stars
Synopsis:

A young thief named Dail discovers a dark secret in the depths of Stone Star and has to decide where his destiny lies--staying hidden in the shadows or standing tall in the searing spotlight of the arena. Either way, his life, and the cosmos itself, will never be the same! The nomadic space station called Stone Star brings gladiatorial entertainment to ports across the galaxy. Inside this gargantuan vessel of tournaments and temptations, foragers and fighters struggle to survive.

Stone Star: Fight or Flight is the first volume of a series, which I’d say has quite a “young adult” feel to it (despite the violence etc, there’s not a lot of gore, and the protagonists are young, there’s a mentor figure, etc, etc). The story’s not too surprising: a young scavenger has a surprising power, and ends up using it in an effort to protect a friend who gets dragged into the gladiatorial arena.

The art’s quite clear and easy to follow, unlike some of the other comics I’ve read lately — it’s all pretty straight-forward. I did find that the narrative bubbles felt… unnecessary. Like it was spoonfeeding information that you could also just get from the context.

I’ll probably read volume two because I have access to it and I’m mildly curious about Dail’s powers and why the other gladiators call Volness a traitor, but I wouldn’t be sad about not continuing, either. That said, I think I’m far from being the target audience!

Rating: 2/5

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