Colour Wielders by Dawna Raver

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First, the Horribly Truncated Summary: Quinn finds out she is divine after losing her virginity to a changeling.

Unfortunately for her, the changeling tries to strip Quinn of her godlike powers. It doesn’t get any better when her father (also a god) charges in while she’s still naked and makes her forget the whole “deity” thing.

Disclaimer: Netgalley gave me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Sadly, I have a kindle, so I could not read Netgalley’s version.

Second Disclaimer: Curiosity Quills Press gave me a kindle version of this book when Netgalley’s version didn’t work. Again, all in exchange for an honest review.

Third Disclaimer/Side Note: I received Color Wielders at the same time as I was reading The Last Grand Master. I proceeded to confuse the two publishers from there. While I wouldn’t mind if CQP published M/M romance, that is not what this book is about. Far from it, actually.

However, somewhere on the interwebs, there is a naked man reading one CQP book in his armchair. Nothing ever dies on the internet.

Anyway, the review must go on.

I was surprised that I liked Colour Wielders as much as I did. I was fully prepared to dislike this book from the outset. Why?

I hate when people use creative spellings for the word “magic”. That’s it. That’s what did it for me, seeing “Magykal” on the cover. Usually, when I see a misspelling of magic (in fiction), it’s a cheap shortcut to making your own magic system. The fact that this book was able to defeat that preconception is a very good thing.

So then, why did I pick up the book in the first place?

The cover was pretty. I have detailed my cover obsession in the past.

Anyway, my summary above is true. Quinn and her brother live most of their lives a normal people, completely oblivious to the deity status of their parents. However, things are shifting within the god realm and their parents can no longer shield the two from the truth.

We also meet Arik, a minor deity who is ostracized from the collective for his views (and his suspicious infamous mother). He refuses to declare himself for Mirk or Soluis (Dark or Light, respectably) and seeks to take care of other ostracized citizens of the “Magykal” realm. He helps run a theme park with Quinn’s banished uncle, which is the oddest thing I’ve seen a rebellious character ever do. It not only works, it makes sense.

Of course, Arik can’t stop thinking about Quinn once she starts coming into her powers. A lot of the book deals with their romance, but it’s also a book about discovering a different realm with gods you thought you knew.

My biggest gripe about this book is that it does end on a cliffhanger. And not just a cliffhanger, but a “we’re not going to resolve any plotlines here” cliffhanger. Another, though no less minor, complaint is the near-endless posturing by the gods. It felt empty when I first read it between Arik and Loki (yes, THAT Loki), and it doesn’t improve when it continues throughout the book. The added use of “characters talking about what they already know for reader benefit” hurts more than a few quick backstory lines would in the same place.

Also, this version of Loki is not the Loki I know. The trickster god is downplayed in favor of a mentor for Arik, giving this Norse giant characteristics I’ve never seen associated with him.

I will continue with the series, however, because the two main characters have endeared themselves to me. Quinn was wonderful from the moment she wanted to take out Bambi and Thumper with a BB gun. Her unicorn tattoos have as much zest as she does. Arik, while difficult to figure out (and seven feet tall, see previous reviews for complaint), has several redeeming qualities and feels genuine compared to several other gods in the book. Quinn’s brother and cousin are also good characters to watch.

Although odd at first, the blending of Celtic, Scandinavian, and Arthurian lore was a welcome change from the norm and worked to create a unique world. The micro-Celtic habitat that Quinn calls home is all-the-more fascinating when the various yard decorations come to life. Lastly, the ability to read a person based on colored auras gives the book a texture that I found appealing, but then, I am easily swayed by shiny descriptions… and covers…

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The Circle by Cindy Cipriano

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First, the Horribly Truncated Summary: Young Calum Ranson must convince himself that the new girl is NOT cute while he helps her search for her twin brother.

Middle-Grade delusions are fun!

I was given a copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you, Netgalley, for continuing to indulge my crazy whims. Also, thank you Odyssey Books for using Netgalley.

Before I begin, I must confess that I had no clue this book was Primary/Middle-Grade Fiction when I originally selected it. If I had known, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. It’s not that early-reader books are a bad thing, it’s just been several (fifteen+) years since I’ve read in that category and I’m not familiar with the field. Unless we’re talking about Sailormoon manga.

We’re not talking about manga. How depressing.

Let’s get to the book! We start with Calum Ranson, a young boy about to go into the sixth grade. He is assured that his cousin is still alive, but in the meantime, he’s stuck working with his mother in their family bookstore. It’s not a difficult job, since Calum and his mother are both Sidhe and use their magical abilities when humans aren’t looking, but it is a boring waste of summer vacation.

We then meet Laurel, who comes to town when her father takes the job of Assistant Principal at Calum’s school. Laurel comes to get her summer reading books, but also gets a book on fairies for her spare time.

Aaaand I ran into my first problem. Laurel entered the store with her mother, then when her mom needs to meet with the real estate agent, she leaves the kid in the bookstore. That’s right, a mom left her 11 year old kid with strangers in a bookstore in a new town. It’s one of those things adults hate but kids never notice while reading. Doesn’t help that Calum’s mother uses “special” tea on her guests to get them to relax and buy more books.

Granted, this isn’t as neglectful as the parents in Erdrich’s The Round House, so it’s a small complaint.

Anyway, Calum and his mom find Laurel interesting because of her choice in books and the odd Sidhe pendant she wears around her neck. She doesn’t like the new town because her twin brother disappeared in their old town in Virginia and she believes she can still find him, the same way Calum believes he can still find his cousin.

Of course, there is a connection between the two disappearances. I’ll just stop there to annoy everyone. It’s what I do.

Tiny gripes aside (seriously, who drops a viola and DOESN’T get their hindside whipped for it?), this book had a great overarching story. I loved the camaraderie between Calum, Laurel, and Hagen (Calum’s cousin). There’s enough tension to make it seem like they’re good friends on a mission together. Also, Calum’s parents are intriguing in their own right. I love the name Kenzie for a woman. Calum’s family seems like any other normal family with magic heritage thrown in.

I had a few larger gripes, though. Any time we are in Calum’s school, the story dies. We have minor plot arcs that are never resolved. Calum’s friend Arlen never comes back for the book’s finale. Neal and his sister are dismissed without much thought. The school trickster plot doesn’t resolve itself (if it does, it’s not obvious). Basically, if we removed the school setting and placed the book over the summer break, it would have been a tighter story.

Also, while the school stuff is explained in agonizing detail, the magical stuff goes so quick that you are left rereading in order to figure out what just happened. Any time Calum left the normal world, I wasn’t clear on what happened or why it was important. I think the problem was an excess of dialogue where simple explanation would have sufficed.

There is a sequel to this book, but I can’t say I would return to find out what happened.

Swans and Klons by Nora Olsen

First, the horribly truncated summary: In the future, men devolve into apes and women enslave each other.

For some, the future is closer than this book gives credit.

I was given a copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Netgalley is generous and benevolent in waiting for me to perform, and for that, I thank them.

As it turns out, dystopia is the new paranormal romance. We like our dystopia these days, especially when the price of gas goes up. What’s a sparkley vampire going to do about that, huh?

Hmm… vampires attacking oil refineries. It’s just crazy enough to work.

Our future in this book is a time where a mitochondrial disorder has deformed men mentally and physically. In order to save the race, women began to clone themselves, leading to a society where there are only 300 types of women.

Not sure why they didn’t try to clone the last genetically healthy male, but that’s not important. What is important is that the leaders of the Society have created an upper and lower class based on genetics. The perfect embryos turn into Pannas while the “defective” ones are raised as laborers, or Klons.

The book opens with Rubric Anne (all Pannas are given nouns as a first name) waiting to find out which genetically-similar Panna will be taking her as a mentor. All young Pannas wait excitedly for this day, since it means adulthood/freedom from dorm living. Her girlfriend/schatzie, Salmon Jo, is selected to work at the genetic reproduction plant while Rubric trains with a famous artist.

We adopted a German vernacular in the future. No one knows why, we just did. Sorry, Japan, you tried your hardest.

Salmon Jo finds out that the differences between Pannas and Klons are non-existent and tells Rubric. Rubric tries to find out more and gets them both into trouble, so the two girls flee.

The devil is in the details and the details of this future world just aren’t here. When the reveal happens, the world isn’t built up enough to make it earth-shattering, so it instead turns lackluster. Scenes that should be action scenes are talked about instead of shown to us. The idea is good and the story is decent, but I kept wanting more than I was given.

Also, the ending was good, but the setup for it felt heavily contrived.

The Last Grand Master by Andrew Gordon

First, the horribly truncated summary: An awesome god-chosen wizard and his warrior lover ride their unicorns to… umm… well, there is an evil wizard.

Typical unicorn mythology does not apply here. It makes me thankful because I would like to ride one myself. And, as established by friends/colleagues, I have no virtue left.

Well, I might have some, but the parts of me requiring the virtue for a unicorn moving right along…

*deep breath* I will try to rein in my snark on this one. I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Honestly, it frustrated me. There were great parts, but they were surrounded by action that went too quick on one side and useless scenes on the other.

We open the book on Farrell, Prince of Haven, levitating outside. The day might be peaceful, but the threat of an increasingly powerful wizard looms like a dark cloud over Farrell’s actions. While working, his god comes down to him in the form of an eagle and explains that his nemesis has attacked a distant village. His god also tells him that he will meet his soulmate in the village, so he best get going.

The following pages are a mad-dash rush. Before I’ve been given a chance to care about the characters, our lead is taken to the village by the Queen of the Unicorns, fights off minions with magic, saves a group of defenders, meets a handsome man among said defenders, and fights to enter the city. It isn’t until we get inside and have a chance to breathe that we get to know Farrell and his god-chosen lover, Miceral.

I liked their relationship. Farrell is this great wizard with a penchant for melodrama while Miceral is his strong warrior (non-human-ly strong – He’s Muchari – a mythical race believed to not exist). Because they both know that they are soulmates, their courtship is over before it began and they have to get used to each other instead. It’s almost like an arranged marriage. Also, most other people are accepting of the homosexual relationship, which is a refreshing change. The only person who complains is Miceral’s father, and those complaints don’t last long because arguing with wizards ends poorly.

They then evacuate Miceral’s village to thwart the evil wizard’s plans and move all inhabitants to Haven. Once in Haven, everyone changes alignment to get away from Qeynos and align themselves with Innoruuk because Dark Elves…

Too much Everquest. Sorry.

Anyway, the magical evacuation and thwarting of their opponent (a wizard named Meglar) was awesome, but after that, the book became boring. Considering we’re only at 25% of the book by this point, it’s disappointing. There’s training scenes, wedding planning, rides on unicorns… basically, no conflict until minions of the wizard show up again at 60%. Even after that point, we have a couple melodramatic chapters and one useless ride-on-unicorns segment. We never see Meglar and, by the time the final battle of the book happens, we need to be reminded of the stakes. I completely forgot that Meglar liked to turn people into monsters and use women for incubation. That’s not something I should forget.

It comes to this: A conflict-less wedding is not exciting (and shouldn’t be in a book’s middle) and if an evil wizard needs several months to recharge himself, he should be located and attacked during that interim. There were great parts of this book, but there needed to be an edit of the darlings.

Also, who puts the Queen of the Unicorns in a stable and abandons her?

Quintessence by David Walton

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Coverlust? Coverlust.

First, the horribly truncated summary: An alchemist and a mortician place their trust in a beetle and take a boat full of Protestants to the end of the world.

 For once, I’m not being glib!

This book was provided to me via Netgalley in return for an honest review. I would like to thank Tor/Forge for giving me this opportunity and taking me seriously.

Now, as a fan of fantasy, Tor is a recognizable staple in our household. I hold them in very high acclaim and reverence. With that in mind, I am fully confident that the advance copy I received will be free of formatting errors by the time it goes on sale.

Why mention formatting errors at all? Those errors made the dialogue a chore to get through. Those errors, coupled with a mild start and a sluggish middle, made the book difficult. I was considering putting Quintessence into my unfinished pile and submitting my review thusly.

But, as I am a masochist, I trudged through. The final thirty percent of the book made it worthwhile.

However, that first seventy percent…

We start our story aboard the Western Star, where Lord Chelsey is returning to (Tudor) England with the last thirteen men from his crew. They’ve all been dying off during the return trip and the venture is nearly a failure. The only redemption he has are the barrels full of riches he has brought back. However, the barrels of gold and diamonds have turned into useless pebbles and the miracle water has turned into seawater.

Tough luck.

He’s deemed mad when the boat docks and dies shortly thereafter. The Western Star is condemned and sold off to the only man that knows its value: Christopher Sinclair, the court magician and part-time alchemist.

Before Sinclair can fully investigate the cargo of the ship, he realizes that someone is stealing away the sailor’s bodies. It’s none other than King Edward VI’s personal physician, Stephen Parris. Parris has taken a keen interest in the lack of decomposition and has decided to further his understanding by means of dissection.

Now, cutting up bodies might be all the rage in Venice, but they still frown upon the practice in Renaissance England. Parris has to hide his “ungodly” activities in order to remain respectable at court. His wife, understandably, doesn’t like walking in on rooms filled with human gore, so they’re marriage is held by a very thin thread.

(Funny note: most male characters are referred to by their last names (there are exceptions, especially where you have a father and son on the same boat). All female characters are referred to by their first names. Not sure if intentional style choice based on era or unintentional sexism.)

Well, in order to get funds for a return trip to Chelsey’s island, Sinclair sells Parris out to the sickly king and all the doctor’s money now belongs to the sea voyage. Parris’ wife is a survivalist, so she secures her fate and leaves her husband in the cold. She tries to secure her daughter’s fate as well, but their daughter “decides” (via otherworldly force) to go with her father to the edge of the world.

Oh, and the boat is full of refugee Protestants when they set sail. Why? Tudor England.

I am cutting many of the cool bits out (magic beetle) because explaining everything would exceed my character limit.

Wait a minute! We’re starting in one of my favorite historical periods, our protagonists are a magician/alchemist and a doctor (and the doctor’s daughter), and they’re sailing to the ends of the earth with a boat full of refugees in hopes of finding out the magic behind Chelsey’s voyage? What the hell is my problem? What was so wrong that I nearly put this book down in shame?

Well, I had no emotional connection to any of these characters until the end of the book. Even then, there was really only one character I connected with, and that was the doctor’s daughter, Catherine. The rest, while doing interesting things, were not interesting in and of themselves. Some, like Parris’ wife, came off as extremely annoying.

Also, there was a lot of setup required to pull off the conclusion. I’m used to setup (obviously, as a fantasy reader), but this setup was centered in characters doing scientific experiments during the journey. Instead of action, the characters repeatedly asked questions through interior monologue that, I think, the readers could have asked themselves without author prompting.

Add to that a very stilted dialogue where names were not placed with quotes and you’ve got a very tiring mess during your middle acts. Thankfully, we reestablish a clear antagonist by the end and I was actually pleased with the outcome.

 I just wish I had a better middle to go with it. 3.5 stars.