Book Report: Fire Mage

Okay, I grant I read this a little ways back, so my memory is a wee bit fuzzier than I’d prefer as I write this, but honestly, I think you all would enjoy the heck out of it, so here I am.  Fire Mage was one of those books that my husband had to force me to put down so I would actually sleep at some point, the night I picked it up.

StockSnap_Vinicius_AmanoThe two lead characters were both compelling and each had completely believable reasons for going out on their respective adventures, and I rather liked them both.  Scarred since childhood, Jena has spent the past few years in the best place she can remember.  The great mage Thornal shelters her and, despite the prohibition on women using mage spells, teaches her all he knows.  When he is killed at the hands of elite royal assassins, he spends the last of his power to keep her safe and destroy the very thing the assassins were sent for.  As Thornal instructed with his last words, Jena uses her illicit mage skills to destroy her mentor’s hut, reach the supposed safety of the Forest of Ghosts, and get past one of the forest’s creepy guardians.  Once there, she learns more about her late mentor and discovers a sister, Bree, that she never knew of.

Jena is plucky and determined, and as we learn on the way also pretty powerful with a Super Secret Super Power, but she’s not all powerful.  She’s also not prone to fits of hysteria or sulking or any of the common heroine tropes.  She’s inexperienced and aware of it,  and she’s scared, with good reason.  The only complaint I really have is how easily she falls into accepting her newfound sister, and how she’ immediately tries to be close ‘like sisters are.’ Yes, they’re blood relatives, when they both thought they didn’t have any, but sharing DNA doesn’t always automatically mean that people will be close, or even like each other, necessarily.

warrior-2613605_1920

Nate is rescued from being murdered by those very same royal assassins by a mercenary under a geas.  This man explains that the Crown Prince— and soon to be king— wants him dead since Nate is in actuality the Long Lost True Heir.  Nate is, shall we say, skeptical.  While he appreciates Argus saving his life and all, he’s clearly a bit cracked if he thinks Nate is anything other than a bastard and a failed mage.  And his refusal to say who he’s working for makes Argus somewhat less than trustworthy.  Argus turns out to be right about one thing, though: Nate is definitely being hunted.  Nate can also see and interact with ghosts, so when he is suddenly haunted by the ghost of a particular, recently dead mage who helps him tap into powers he never knew he had, Nate finds himself on a journey he never wanted, just in a bid to keep himself alive.

I like Nate.  He’s not the sort of hero that simply accepts everything he’s told by whoever he runs into on the journey.  He questions everything, doesn’t trust his companions outside of a narrow band of behaviors, and has a more than healthy amount of skepticism.  It’s a pleasant change from the standard ‘I’m on an adventure s everyone must obviously be just what they present themselves as!’ Attitude that so many heroes adopt the second they set out.  Frankly, I wouldn’t trust Argus either, Nate.  Good call.

Naturally, these two meet up in the Forest of Ghosts when Nate and Argus are desperately trying to outrun some nasty dark rider style creatures made up of thousands of flies.  Not corpses.  Not smoke or brainwashed humans on aggressive horses.  Horse and rider are both made out of flies.  That is both creative and super gross.

Anyway, Nate and Argus make it into the Forest, though Argus is poisoned by the fly-rider things, and from there it’s a merry-is band of four as the sisters, the mage, and the mercenary set out with the vague aim of making it to Argus’ master’s house.  Not that any of them trust the guy, but it’s the only lead they’ve got.

This is already dragging on a bit, so I’m going to wrap up by pointing out that these characters are well worth spending a few hours of your time with. Nate and Jena do feel an attraction to one another, so there is a potential romance floating in the plot.  It’s a series, so the bigger plot doesn’t wrap up, either.  There’s a healthy bit of story left to go in this universe, and frankly, I look forward to going over it.  What, exactly, does it mean that Nate is the prophesied Fire Mage?  How can he leverage that to keep himself alive, and presumably save the world on the way?  How does Jena manage to keep herself alive even though she’s clearly a mage of no small skill herself, which as a woman carries a death sentence?  What happens to Argus and Bree?

The book does end on a cliffhanger.  They reach the interim goal they’d set for themselves, but the book doesn’t take them further than that, and I definitely can’t help but feel like this whole thing is a setup for badness.  As cliffhangers go, it’s a good one.  I definitely want to know what happens next.

15717229930_9be4b15fab_c

Photo credit: OFTO via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

In the end, this was a thoroughly enjoyable adventure with characters I didn’t get tired of and a decent take on the old Rightful Heir trope.  I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone who wants a fun high fantasy escape.  I have a feeling that book two is going to be worth the wait.  In the meantime, I’m going to check out a few of Trudi Jaye’s other books.   If you want a copy, now’s your chance.  Giveaways don’t happen EVERY day, but aren’t they fun when they do?  What’s next on your TBR list?

Book Report: The Wood Wife

So this week of previews at the theatre is almost over.  I have two shows to go till my day off— a matinee and an evening performance— and we’re all pretty ready for a break.  The horrifying awfulness of so much of the show is starting to wear off a bit as I get the shape of the show and my cues through it all into my bones.  That’s usually the hardest part of a show, and for this one, it’s been extra difficult.

But what all this means is that my mind is starting to come back online, which means I’m starting to think about writing and other work again.  Two of my co-workers united to spark an idea for a series of short stories, and I’m finally going to sit down and plan out the next novel or two.  But for now, I’m still just reading to balance my emotional strain a bit.  Have I told you guys about The Wood Wife yet?  I haven’t?  It’s one of my favorite books ever, let me tell you about it.

red-heart-in-open-book

The Wood Wife is the story of a poet remembering that she is a poet.  It’s also about a poet who lived on a mountain and drowned in the desert, all for his lover who was a surrealist painter.  It’s also about the mountain they live on.  And the past, and the present, and the forces that run through a place and the people affected by both the place and the spirits that weave through everything.

It’s a hard book to describe, really.  The language Terri Windling uses had me wrapped up from page one where she describes the night of the elder poet’s death and the creatures that mark his passing even as he is left, drowned in a dry wash that hasn’t seen water in decades in the middle of the Sonoran Desert.   Even though she’s properly at home in Britain, she manages to evoke the American Southwest in a way that I’m sure I couldn’t.

I love Maggie Black, the main character.  She moves into the house of Cooper Davis on a wild mountain near Tuscon after he leaves it to her in his will.  She takes it as a sign that he’s finally granting permission for her to write a book on him, though he’s refused to even meet her in person for years.  Naturally, once she gets there, she gets caught up in the slower life, the more remote mountain and the interesting characters that live there, and along with them she gets swept into a battle for the supernatural balance of the area.  At least Maggie is let in on the supernatural aspect of it— not all of them are.  And on the way we get to watch her journey from tired, slightly defeated writer trying to break out of her magnetic ex-husband’s orbit back to energized, driven poet who can honestly be fond friends with her ex, but no longer elastically tied to him.

It’s not a fast-paced, snarky, city adventure by any stretch.  It’s a slow, almost hushed build to the climactic gathering of all the characters, but once you get there the pay off is well worth the reader’s patience, and the journey there is entirely enjoyable.  I can’t recommend this book enough. Seriously.  Go read this one.

Ten out of 5 rutabagas.  Seriously.  I love this book.

5417368203_495d9c768d_z

Photo credit: akseabird via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC

Book Report: Hands of Lyr

red-heart-in-open-book

So I promised a Book Report on Monday and here it is.  The Hands of Lyr is one of my all-time favorite fantasy novels, and Andre Norton is a phenomenal writer, so there you are.  My honest opinion.

What?  Wait, you want more detail than that?  *Sigh* fine.

So I first read this book, oh, years ago.  Before I even moved to California, so you know it’s been a while.  Well before ebooks were a thing, back when I thought the idea of me being any sort of writer was a ridiculous pipe dream rightfully and entirely crushed by creative writing classes in college.  I didn’t know until very recently (like, maybe a few months ago?) that it’s part of a series called The Five Senses.  I haven’t read any of the others (yet!) but if they’re anywhere as good as this one I’m definitely in.  Okay.  Deep breath, here we go.

HandsofLyr.jpg

I… don’t really understand this cover.  It is still 100% better than the paperback I have on my bookshelf though.

The story follows two people, both young and essentially alone in the world, and both with good reason to be both angry at the world in general and distrustful of each other specifically.  Alnosha— Nosh to her friends— was being driven to her death for reasons we never learn by faceless soldiers intent on dragging their prisoners through this inexplicable death-march.  They are being dragged through the Ryft, a barren, deadly place where even the dust is poisonous, and she is rescued by an old woman.  Over the years she learns that she has a gift, given to her by the goddess Lyr, whose valley the Ryft once was.  After many years of learning and surviving, she and her friend are driven to flee the Ryft and the old woman takes Nosh straight to the mountains and a band of outlaws.

 

Amongst these outlaws is a young man named Kryn who was barely grown when he watched his noble father give his whole family and all they owned and controlled to the Temple and the oily, power-hungry High Priest.  Kryn escaped the fate of the slave collar by sheer chance, having happened to be touring a holding on the edge of their territory on the day his father made the decision.  He steals his family’s heirloom sword back and makes a run for it into the mountains, where he meets and joins the outlaws, a group made up of others like him whose families were led mindlessly to Temple slavery.  He distrusts anyone with even a hint of magic since that is how the Temple has been destroying noble families one by one and leading the King into destruction and madness.

HandsofLyr2.jpg

See, this cover actually makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and is only related to the book in so far as there are 2 characters on the cover.

Naturally, Kryn is commanded to guard Alnosha on her mission as she journeys through the world to find the ten crystal fingers, restore the hands of the statue of Lyr in the Ryft, and break the grip of the evil wizard behind the High Priest and the blight on Lyr’s valley.  Needless to say, they have many adventures, and learn to not only respect each other but become fairly fond of one another.  The dangers they face are not constant, nor are they always end-of-the-world stakes.  There are magic attacks from far off, bandits attacking a caravan, a scheming merchant bent on ruling a far-off city-state, and a sudden ice storm to be somehow survived as they search for the fingers and learn how to defeat the wizard.

 

Nosh is a pragmatic, determined young woman who does her best to be polite and respectful but spent much of her life being an honest to god(dess) hermit.  Kryn is hostile, but understandably so and does learn that magic is only as evil as the person who wields it.  The gradual journey between them from prickly hostility to grudging respect to friendship is so natural and understandable as they alternate rescuing each other that by the time you end the book it feels like such an obvious outcome that anything else seems laughable.

So, I don’t think you’ll be shocked to hear that I rate this book 5 out of 5 rutabagas.  I love this book.  Norton is a pretty major influence on my imagination and, I hope, my style.  I hope I have some small influence on your reading lists, and if I do, I hope you put The Hands of Lyr on your to-read pile.

5417368203_495d9c768d_z

Photo credit: akseabird via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC

Assignments

red-heart-in-open-book

You might have noticed that I’m not especially organized.  *Ahem*  Yes, well.  As a result of that, I usually forget to activate incognito mode when I’m trolling around Amazon doing research for books and marketing ideas and so on.  Add to that my fairly eclectic reading tastes— everything from the Dresden Files (I broke down and bought the next couple because my local library doesn’t have them) to vampire beat cops fighting semi-sentient books while falling in love, to writing books on technique, to well…  you get the idea.  As a result, Amazon’s algorithms have no idea what to do with me, and just kinda throws things at me to see what sticks.  Sometimes it works and I get to read a Nate Temple novel.  Sometimes, well…

Sometimes I get tossed a book with the title Vampire Claus, and it’s a romance novella where a 200-year-old vampire saves Christmas for at-risk homeless kids and finds the man of his dreams, and you go and show your co-workers in the electrics shop and, well…  They demanded I write a book report.  I’m placing the blame fully on my fellow electricians because I was honestly satisfied just reading the cover copy for this one.  Still, it wasn’t a bad way to spend a few hours, and now you get to reap the benefits!

church in cityscape

Churches should always be viewed from the roof in a paranormal romance.  I think it’s a law.  Photo on Visual hunt

Taviano is feeling rather morose as the story opens, and perches on top of St Stephen’s Catholic Church in Boston, feeling sad and nostalgic for the Christmases of his youth in Italy, where his mother baked things and he celebrated the midnight mass and frolicked happily (and not so innocently) with his best friend.  He was an altar boy or some such and was quite devout, but apparently, that didn’t stop him from dreaming about running away with his buddy to live happily not-so-innocently ever after somewhere else.  This leads into remembering why he’s sitting on top of the church rather than inside it, or, frankly, being dead and buried somewhere for 150 years or so, and we get a little explanation of how vampires work in this world.

Which is actually kind of interesting to me.  Y’all know I’m a sucker (hah!) for vampires, and the setup here is pretty different from anything else I’ve come across. The idea is that rather than becoming a bloodsucking demon, a human is killed in order to host a bloodsucking demon.  A separate consciousness that Taviano is aware of and struggles against every day.  He refuses to simply let the beast loose to feed or fight or what have you and has managed to sate it by feeding every few days off the dregs of humanity: murderers, rapists, violent offenders of all sorts.  It helps him justify his continued existence to himself.

bat hanging from net

Photo on VisualHunt.com

In this world, vampires must still be invited into private residences.  Sunlight is still fatal, but physical wounds are not such a problem— either for himself or for anyone he chooses to aid— thanks to the substance that has replaced basically every bodily fluid in him, and he has to lose a great deal of it before injuries start to do genuine damage.  He calls it ‘ichor’ and it’s a thick, clear substance that flows through his veins rather than blood.  As we learn it also replaces tears and, er, other stuff.  It’s a handy substance to have since it heals him right up when he gets wounded, and he uses it to heal up bite marks on his victims before he alters their memories and leaves them (usually, mostly) alive.  All this stuff is not only fascinating but important later on!

Moving along.

He is, as one would expect, pounced upon and threatened by a local vampire.  Our Hero tries to explain that he’s just passing through and will be gone by dawn, but she says he has until midnight before she gets her allies and they come after him.  As soon as she leaves he hears the sounds of a mugging in progress!  On Christmas Eve?  He can’t stand for that and also, hey, dinner!

The man being accosted is A: predictably beautiful, B: carrying a whole bunch of bags full of what we learn are presents for the kids in an LGBT+ shelter, and C: (again, predictably) coatless and poor.  Taviano springs into action and rescues the guy, and we are immediately subjected to the worst sort of dudebro dialogue I have come across in years.  “Your name is lit up!  “A scar would be gangsta!” “No, I got this bruh.”

Actual quotes, you guys.

Paul is…  well we can see what he’s supposed to be.  Kind, hardworking, generous, and selfless.  Paul is really supposed to be Cinderella and Bob Cratchett rolled up together in a Studly McHotpants package.  He ends up coming off as painfully, excruciatingly young.  And more than a bit dim.  Sigh. Did I mention the dudebro speak?

Taviano, on the other hand, turned out to be really pretty likable, much to my chagrin.  He’s mostly got a handle on the guilt he feels at being a ‘murderer’ and a ‘monster’ and all that.  I already mentioned the only-feeds-on-bad-guys thing.  He’s also fighting a loneliness that isn’t only born of being effectively immortal.  He’s also struggling with the lingering feelings he had for his bestie back when he was alive, and also the weight of some 200 years of having society tell him that who and how he loved was wrong.  I mean that sort of thing can mess you up after a few months, can you even imagine centuries of it?  Taviano works through it all with grace, which is pretty surprising, since so many character arcs I read about guilt like this end up with the character basically just saying ‘eh, fuckit.’ and Taviano actually seems to get through some of it honestly.

santa with presents

I am *super realistic and believeable*

Still, Taviano is smitten and is also a bit hung up on being able to hold an actual conversation for the first time in something like 150 years, so he ends up helping Paul (the dudebro) take the presents to the shelter, where they arrive late, after the doors are locked.  Moved by the determination of Paul to not ruin Christmas for these kids, Taviano uses his vampire superpowers to leap to the roof, break in from there, put the presents under the tree, and then wake everyone up and make them all think that Santa has delivered the presents before running like a bat out of…  well out of a shelter, actually.  Like you do.

 

There is an entirely expectable amount of sexytime, which I won’t get into, Paul convinces Taviano to try entering the church for mass which works out surprisingly well for everyone, and afterward, he manages to get completely high off vampire tears, I shit you not.  The local vampires attack and actually do a fair amount of damage to everyone involved, Tavano lets his inner demon out to play, Paul (much like Tiny Tim) does not die due to, um…  reasons involving that ichor I mentioned, and ingesting it in more ways than one and we’re all smart enough here that I don’t need to go into further detail.

Interestingly enough while there is a happily ever after of sorts (a vampire and his boyfriend, sorting out sleeping schedules!) there is also a fairly compelling hook for the author to write more about these characters.  The demon is pretty explicit in explaining that he has his own plans and Taviano is not privy to them.  There’s a bunch of loot that he gets from beating the local vampires, too, and his strong suspicion that Paul is going to want to host a little demon of his own someday which makes him uneasy.

All in all, once I got past the occasionally somewhat clunky prose, the story was reasonably decent.  Several parts were predictable, admittedly, but they weren’t done so badly as to be awful.  The inconsistently dudebro-y dialogue was distracting, and honestly not very smooth.  I’m giving Vampire Claus 3.5 out of 5 rutabagas.  But, if you’re looking for a paranormal romance with a holiday twist you could certainly do much worse.  Heck, there’s a reindeer shifter romance set in a Halloween haunted house out there.

Told you I get some weird stuff sometimes.

5417368203_495d9c768d_z

Photo credit: akseabird via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC

Sticks and stones…

red-heart-in-open-book

Words can hurt.  I don’t care what anyone tells you, words are powerful and can cause real damage.  And when those words are being hurled physically at you by an animated, angry book, they can knock you out flat and maybe you’ll need stitches.  Officer Carrington Loveless of the 77th Paranormal police squad in Philadelphia finds this out the hard way, taking a vicious insult right to the face, in Skim Blood and Savage Verse.

You guys.  You know I love a vampire.  I really love a vampire that would probably make Anne Rice break out in hives, and Carr is sitting right there in my Vampire Sweet Spot.  He’s a cop, for one thing, much to the dismay of his wealthy family.  He’s a bit of a book nerd, able to quote (or identify) Shakespeare, A. A. Milne, and Oscar Wilde among others.  His nemesis for the case is, in fact, a copy of Henry IV parts 1 and 2.  I’ve got my B.A. in theater so I understand struggling with Shakespeare, but I never ended up needing stitches from it!

There are a few other things about Carr that sets him apart from ye olde stereotypical vampire, and the big one is that the guy that turned him kind of mucked it up.  While Carr is a vampire, with all that entails, he can’t drink blood right from the source.  He’s allergic to it.  Makes him violently ill.  He has a prescription for what they call skim blood— washed red blood cells without the white cells and a few other things.  However, one of the benefits is that he can survive in daylight for short periods of time, unlike the ‘real vampires’ up at State Paranormal.  He needs a hat and sunglasses and still gets pretty sick if he’s out too long, but still a handy trick for a Creature of the Night.

The other thing about him— and here’s where I warn you that this is a romance novel—  is that Carrington is not merely unlucky romantically, but also absolutely sabotaging himself.  He keeps going after what his partner Amanda calls ‘dumb jocks’ who expect him to behave like an escapee from a horror flick.  Which he’s not.  And then when his relationship falls apart, he gets depressed and stops eating, and gets depressed.

It’s so predictable that even the doctor that takes care of the paranormal cops walks in, notes that he’s lost weight, and asks who the guy was.

You guys.  This book is amazing.  So funny I actually laughed.  Out loud.  And giggled under my breath.  If I had a physical copy of this book I would put it on my shelf between the Discworld novels and Dirk Gently.  Carr’s whole squad is full of slightly ‘broken’ paranormals.  There’s Wolf, who is not a werewolf.  He was born an actual wolf and got cursed to be human.  There’s Kyle who briefly picks up the talents of anyone he touches.  There’s the animate leather jacket (LJ) who is a consultant to the squad and lives in their precinct house.  And their captain is an anti-priestess for an elder god.

Not only is it hilarious, but it also addresses a few things like stereotypes and expectations and being comfortable as yourself, which are all things humanity struggles with.  So there’s the Lessons Learned portion of the book.  I did think that the one argument that Carr and the Rare Books Librarian Erasmus get into late in the story was a bit…  I don’t know, rushed?  It felt slightly forced like the author wanted to get it in there and just jammed it in a bit.  Still, I’ve read this book twice in about a month now and wanted to read parts of it out loud to whoever was nearby at the time just about every time I picked it up.  (I do humbly apologize to my coworkers.  They weren’t nearly as interested as I was…)

So, five out of five rutabagas.  And if you don’t like reading sex scenes, then you can skip it and not miss anything important to the plot.  There’s only the one, and the rest of this book is so worth reading.

5417368203_495d9c768d_z

Photo credit: akseabird via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC

Book Report 2

15717229930_9be4b15fab_c

Photo credit: OFTO via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

I probably ought to think of a different name for this series, but eh.  For now it’ll do, because it’s pretty accurate.  I’ve got a busy week or so ahead with my rehearsal schedule starting on Halloween.  The upside is that I’ll have some downtime during meal breaks to read without having any first graders interrupt me!  I have a couple things in the queue all ready to go.

But, a few weeks back I finished Mark of Cain by Conner Kressley.  As you can probably guess, the story is a bit biblical in its scope.  At least some of the characters are.  Cain— who insists that you not call him by his given name for everyone’s sake— has had millennia to understand the punishment laid upon him by the Big Guy.  He is immortal and neither human nor inhuman, existing in an odd and unique place in a world he’s watched since quite literally the beginning of humanity.

It actually reads like a fairly normal urban fantasy, but the slant on the Cain character is fairly interesting.  In this book, he’s a man who did something he regretted before it was even over, and who will pay for it for the rest of eternity.  He calls it a curse, and he’s not wrong.  Not only can’t he die, but much like the Highlander, he can suffer everything right up to that final moment of peace.  Broken arm?  Yep, he’ll heal and be good as new, but it’ll take just as long as anyone else.  Stabbed or shot?  Hurts like hell and he could very well bleed out and end up in the morgue, but it won’t stick and he’ll scare the ever-loving shite out of the poor medical examiner after a short while.  Not fun, and he kind of hates it.

He does, however, use that, and the other part of his curse as offensive weapons, and reading about his creativity with that aspect of his life is somewhat thrilling.  He is joined in his exciting adventures by a police detective he’s known since birth, but now looks like his father, and by a woman who starts their association by drugging and kidnapping him and trying to turn him over to a coven of very strangely overpowered witches bent on his death.  Yes, you read that right.  They want to kill the immortal main character.

He doesn’t really understand their compulsion about it either.

Ultimately he realizes that they want both him AND the woman, and that the danger isn’t merely to the pair of them, but that once again he’s been thrust into trouble of biblical proportions.

 

4649749639_e67a906d65_b

“God hates me.  Really, I’m being completely literal here.  No, I don’t mean figuratively.”     Photo credit: Sander van der Wel via Visualhunt / CC BY-SA

 

I know this is a pretty long-winded buildup, but I found the whole set up fascinating.  I loved the character of Cain himself (or Callum as he has everyone call him.  Really, it’s for everyone’s own good.) He’s tired but determined.  He argues with his brother, whether it’s his ghost or a hallucination he’s never sure, but that doesn’t stop him.  He’s protective of those few he cares about, and genuinely attached to this nutballs world we all live in.  He’s fairly pragmatic, as well, using the various aspects of his curse as both weapon and shield.  And he tries to save as many people as he can, knowing all too well how short human life is.

I do have a slight argument with the series name— Immortal Mercenary feels wildly inaccurate since he’s committed to not getting any more blood on his hands.  Still, I’ll probably pick up more of the books he headlines, since the Big Bad in the first one was pretty good, even though I called it halfway through.  I’m not sure everyone will catch the clues the same way I did though, and the logic behind the villain’s motivation was definitely cracked.  Poor old crazy pants bad guys.

Anyway, to wrap up this ramble, I quite enjoyed this one and actually read it in one sitting.  Cain himself is a great character, and the supporting cast is solid.  His would-be kidnapper’s about-face to being his ally was neither too fast nor was it difficult to believe, which made me very happy, and the plot felt like it flowed solidly from a simple ‘solve the murder’ book to a ‘save the whole world, and possibly a few other planes of existence’ sort of thing.

So I recommend this one as well.  It’s a solid four out of five rutabagas.  Maybe even four and a half.  If you like new takes on very old characters, you should pick it up.

5417368203_495d9c768d_z

That’s a lot of rutabega.  Photo credit: akseabird via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC

Druid problems

15717229930_9be4b15fab_c

Photo credit: OFTO via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Though Colin McCool does try several times to point out that he is not, in fact, a druid.  It’s a title that has been bestowed upon him both by his author and by the supernatural community in Austin, Texas in Junkyard Druid.

I asked on Facebook if folks would like me to occasionally review the books I read, and so here is the first installment— unless you count my mention of Dead Man in my little rant last week…  That post was more about the rant than the book, though, so I don’t count it.  So!  Here are my thoughts on this one.

It starts out with a flashback.  No, that’s not right.  It actually starts out with an author’s note, which was both interesting to me as a person, and kinda annoying to me as a reader.  I like the information presented and it did actually get me curious about some things, I personally think that it should have been put at the end after the story had concluded.  It was more background on the author’s process for developing the character than anything else and ended up (for me) being slightly distracting while I read.  That said once I started the story itself, it starts with a ‘two years ago’ sort of chapter, in which you follow Colin in the moments just before Very Bad And Traumatizing Things Happen.  We then get to follow him into therapy, which I thought was brilliant.

I mean think about this for a moment.  Urban Fantasy as a broad genre tends to contain mostly normal(ish) folks saving the world.  Being put in that sort of situation is bound to mess a person up, even if they’ve been Top Demon Vampire Hunter of the Year three years running.  When all your peers are also badass demon vampire hunters, suddenly being the only one who can be the hero can’t be good for the psyche, and Colin is nowhere near that sort of top-tier hunter at the start of this book.  And when things go wrong, I mean the guy’s cursed hard, and when he comes out the other end of the fight even his teacher has PTSD from the experience.

 

gnome-garden-decoration-dwarf-little

Colin tells you all about how I dye my hat.  It’s fun!  And… well…  

 

Anyway.  It takes a few chapters for the book to catch up to “now” and it’s all really great character building stuff.  We get to keep up with the back-then storyline with top-of-chapter journal entries, which is actually kind of nifty.  Once we join Colin in ‘now’ he’s living in the titular junkyard and using his skills and training as a menial laborer in lieu of rent.  His mentor lives in a broken down van out back, often drunk and high.  Colin has sworn off basically anything to do with paranormals, although he can’t avoid them altogether it seems.  He has, apparently, three friends: a half-paranormal woman, another hunter, and the owner of his favorite cafe-slash leader of the local vampire coven.  It’s his first day of college.

Antics, as they say, ensue.  Without giving much away he gets dragged very reluctantly back into the many troubles of the paranormal community.  And here, I have to say, is where my trouble started.  I’m really tired of the powerful-hero-manipulated-by-well-everyone-honestly thing.  It’s almost always combined with the never-able-to-breathe-let-alone-think trope, which we’ve already covered here.

Fortunately, Colin gets ample time to breathe (and sleep!  And go to the gym to fight someone and blow off some angry energy!)  AND he (seems to…) end the book with more friends and allies than he starts with, which makes me very happy.  The manipulation really bugs me, though, so if I get to the second book, it probably won’t be for a little while.

On the whole, I rather liked Junkyard Druid.  Colin is a pretty charming, likable, messed up guy who is both broken and clueless in completely understandable ways.  His hunter friend is pretty badass in her own right, and— as much as I loathe saying it— gets sidelined and demoted by her C.O. in a completely believable way, which says something about the state of badass women in a testosterone-heavy hero-organization org chart.  The vampire barista was amusing and the fairy queen was in my opinion entirely loathsome.  I feel that overall the characters were worth reading and I was glad to spend some time with them.  I’d give this book four out of five rutabagas.

Trust me.  That’s pretty good in this house.