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Retro Review: Succubus in the City (2008)

Nina Harper

Piatkus (2008)

ISBN: 978 0 7499 2922 0

With paranormal fiction all the rage, it’s no wonder that authors decide it’s a good idea to cross fandoms. Well, kind of. Succubus in the City is pretty much Sex in the City, with demons. Much of the book is given over to discussions of how wonderful it is to be young and good-looking in New York City, particularly if you’re a demon, and happen to be one of Satan’s best friends, and while this works to a certain extent, I wanted to see more story than setting, and was left wanting in the end.

Lily, our main character, is one of Satan’s favourite girls, a succubus whose only duty is to have sex with men of sin (just about anyone really) and send them to hell. However, for whatever reason, Satan’s minions also hold down day jobs – in Lily’s case, a prime position with a fashion magazine – and not only do their paranormal duties, but work in the real world as well. Sure, there’s perks to both jobs, but really? Why would several thousand year old demons want to work two jobs? I’m pretty sure it was for the shoes, but I digress. Lily’s many centuries of sex working have finally waned in their appeal, and she now yearns for the love and companionship of a human man, and a “real life” along with it. Unfortunately for her, the details of her contract with Satan mean that she can only be released from service if someone who knows her true nature truly loves her. Not likely, right?

Lily and her girlfriends find themselves embroiled in a situation where it seems their demon natures will be exposed, and Lily is set to work to find out where the situation stems from. Amongst it all, she meets private investigator Nathan Coleman, and Lily begins to fantasise about a possible true love. But Nathan may not be everything he appears, and Lily must discover the truth about his background, and about how much he really knows.

I’m not a fan of Sex in the City – I don’t think I’ve even seen one full episode of the show, and that may be why Succubus in the City really didn’t appeal to me. The endless name dropping of places and brands, and the motions associated with shopping and eating out filled up more of the book than the core of the story itself, to the point where I was left completely unsatisfied by the ending. The book is marketed as a standalone novel (no mention of series anywhere on the cover or endpapers), but the story is incomplete and thus must be part of a series, which is frustrating for the reader. However, others may enjoy the character of New York, and if you’re looking for something more chick lit than paranormal, this might suit you.

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Retro Review: The Watergivers trilogy

The Last Stormlord 

Glenda Larke

ISBN: 978 07322 89294

HarperVoyager (2009)

Watergivers #1

The cloudmaster is failing. The stormlords are few. Rainlords don’t have the power to bring the essential rain. The land could soon perish and civilisation as it is known is under threat. But from whom? Village boy Shale could be the saviour of the Scarpen lands, but who should he trust? And how does Terelle, with her unusual powers, fit in to the battle he faces?

Glenda Larke is a skilful world builder and in this new series, she creates an remarkable desert land where water is treasured and the waterless are the outcasts of society. Born waterless, both Shale and Terelle fight to be more than they were allotted in life, and in doing so, become embroiled in a fight for the very survival of their world.

As usual, Larke creates an intriguing cast of characters and a fascinating story that evolves and develops gradually, weaving a spell that envelopes the reader and makes the book almost impossible to put down. My biggest problem is now the long wait for book two, but I have no doubt the wait will be well worth it!

Stormlord Rising

Glenda Larke

HarperVoyager (2010)

ISBN: 978 0 7322 8930 0

Watergivers #2

Stormlord Rising is possibly the best Book Two of a series I have ever read. To be fair, I have read Book One, but I believe this one even does its own justice to a newcomer to the series. Larke manages to effectively start a new storline with Stormlord Rising that is enhanced by having read The Last Stormlord, but not reliant upon it.

With the invasion of Breccia City and Qanatend by the Reduner tribes, led by Sandmaster Davim, which wiped out almost all the rainlords of the Quartern, Jasper Bloodstone – risen from lowly beginnings – is the only remaining stormlord with enough power to bring rain to the region. Supported and manipulated in his flawed powers by the traitorous Taquar Sardonyx, Jasper slowly fights to free himself from the control of others, seeking any way possible to truly command his own destiny. His journey intersects with that of the waterpainter Terelle Grey, who fights her own fate, and the lives of the last remaining rainlords. But Taquar is not the only enemy; Sandmaster Davim is rabid in his hatred of the stormlords, and his heir – the Reduner chief Ravard – has his own agenda as well. Can Jasper possibly fight a war that has so many fronts?

This brief synopsis can scarcely do justice to Larke’s complex story. Written so fluidly that the intertwining plot threads weave seamlessly together as the pages progress, Stormlord Rising is a page turner of classic magnitude. The action leaps off the page, supported by characters so well-drawn you fall in love with them, but in the hands of an author not afraid to kill off her darlings, which is a heart-pounding combination!

I read this book in the bath, in bed, feeding the baby and in the wee hours. I simply could not put it down. While it’s a huge book, it was so well put together that the pages flew by and I can only hope there’s not too long to wait for Book Three!

Stormlord’s Exile

Glenda Larke

HarperVoyager (2011)

ISBN: 978-0-7322-8931-7

Watergivers #2

Glenda Larke has to be one of the best writers of fantasy Australia has produced. With a solid backlist of two great trilogies behind her, she has really hammered home her dominance with the Watergivers trilogy. Having set up a world that seems just a little too real with its water problems, but is nonetheless entirely alien, Larke populates it with both magical and mundane characters of wonderful diversity, then throws them into intense conflict. While her books are high fantasy of the fattest “fat fantasy” tradition, they draw you in so completely that the pages simply fly by.

It is difficult to review the third novel without spoiling the first two, as such significant character development occurs throughout the series. It’s also worth saying that I highly recommend this series be read in close progression. I wish I’d had the time to reread the first two before devouring the third, as although Larke does well to recap on past events within the narrative, it is a large caste and a broad canvas, so rolling through from beginning to end helps heighten the emotional investment in the story.

In Stormlord’s Exile Jasper/Shale is declared Cloudmaster, but his talents are still imperfect and he is stretched thin, even with the help of Terelle’s waterpainting, providing water to the Quartern. He needs more Stormlords, but short of breeding them, where can they come from? Even as Jasper struggles to keep his people alive and watered, there are still plots against him, and he is about to lose Terelle’s support, perhaps forever. In the Red Quarter, in the aftermath of Davim’s death, Ravard seeks to maintain the goal of returning to a time of random rain. But ex-Rainlord Kaneth, with the very able Ryka by his side, have a different vision for the future of the Reduner people, and this leads them, too, into conflict. Can peace, and even prosperity, ever come to the Quartern?

One of the most interesting things about this trilogy is the way Larke has diverged from a traditional fantasy setting, with medieval history at its heart. Instead, she has taken us to an arid world where every drop of water is precious, and the people are ruled not by monarchs, but by those with the power to control water. Her commentary on environmental issues in the “real world” are subtle but well drawn, and add even more depth to her storytelling.

For lovers of fantasy, I cannot recommend this highly enough. Well worth adding to your “to read” lists!

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Retro Review: Shalador’s Lady (2010)

Anne Bishop

HarperVoyager (2010)

ISBN: 9780732290948

Black Jewels #8

A direct sequel to The Shadow Queen, Shalador’s Lady continues the story of the incumbent Queen of the Territory of Dena Nehele, Lady Cassidy, as she attempts to heal the wounds of her land. Cassidy is still coming to terms with the fact that she might actually be a good Territory Queen when Theran – the last of the ruling family left, and the one who had petitioned for the new Queen in the first place – falls under the spell of a ghost from her past; Kermilla, the Queen who broke Cassidy’s first court. Theran is blinded by Kermilla’s looks and charm – he has never agreed with Cassidy’s methods, and believes Kermilla is the Queen he is looking for. However, the rest of Cassidy’s court disagrees, particularly Gray, Theran’s own cousin, who has fallen in love with Cassidy, and Ranon, second-in-command of her Master of the Guard. With the Sa Diablo family in quiet support of Cassidy, does Theran have a chance of overthrowing Cassidy’s court, and will it really be the best thing for his nation?

Anne Bishop is the mistress of dark fantasy – her Black Jewels novels are always engaging, intriguing, sexy and just a little bit fun. The characters jump off the page and into your heart as you become deeply involved in their lives. Bishop has interwoven her original characters (primarily the Sa Diablo family, including Saetan, Jaenelle, Daemon, Lucivar, among others) throughout the narrative of the later books, which is a great bonus for fans of the series, particularly as they play a genuine role, rather than being add-ons to the story, with the characters continuing to evolve.

Shalador’s Lady had me up until after midnight devouring pages; I simply could not put it down. I just had to know what happened next, and how things would turn out, and the writing simply draws you through the story. I can’t wait to see what Bishop does next in her Black Jewels world – I’ll be first in line for the next one!

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Retro Review: The Fallen Moon trilogy

The Dark Griffin 

KJ Taylor

Harper Voyager (2009)

ISBN: 978 07322 88525

The Fallen Moon Book #1

KJ Taylor is a young author and The Dark Griffin is her first book. This combination (in my experience) frequently makes for a naively written book that I generally find easy to dismiss. From the first chapter though, The Dark Griffin engaged and intrigued me. Taylor has written a cohesive and powerful tale, peopled with deeply layered characters and set in the wonderful tapestry of a new fantasy world.

Arren Cardockson became a revered griffiner by luck alone – his Northern heritage marked him otherwise as outcast. From the chance that bought him his position, hard work and intelligence continued to improve his position in life. But there are those who fear what he might become, and who put every obstacle possible in his way, and herein lies the crux of the conflict in the story.

Cardockson is not the only protagonist the reader gets to know, however; the griffins themselves are captivating. While somewhat anthropomorphised, they still present an alien counterpoint to the human drama. Chief is the tale of the rogue griffin who becomes known as Darkheart; his story is fascinating and heartbreaking, and mirrors Arren’s own challenges, until their stories become entwined, by chance and choice both.

While I would not class The Dark Griffin as a young adult novel (the style and subject matter don’t really match the usual criteria), neither is it unsuitable for a secondary collection. There is death and violence throughout the book, and some intimations of sexual activity between adults, but not in a graphic or even overt manner. The writing is not too challenging for older teens, and I would recommend it for readers 14-plus.

Taylor has produced a wonderful new world to explore, and I have no doubt she will continue to draw in readers as her popularity grows. She is a shining new light in Australian fantasy, and I look forward to seeing where her star takes her.

The Griffin’s Flight

KJ Taylor

HarperVoyager (2010)

ISBN: 978 0 7322 8853 2

The Fallen Moon Book #2

 

Arren Cardockson is a wanted man after he brought down the ruling class of Eagleholm, effectively (if unwittingly) destroying the city and its government of griffiners. On the run with the wild griffin Darkheart (now named Skandar by Arren), he heads towards the North, the only place he can think of where he might find peace. But peace is not in Arren’s destiny – first coming across the strange woman Skade and joining her on her own strange quest in the hopes of redeeming his own curse, then being captured and enslaved, Arren crashes from crisis to crisis, embroiling himself ever deeper in a spiral of rage, fear and hate that has no visible way out.

I was disappointed by this book – I enjoyed the first one of the series so much and had really been looking forward to this. Unfortunately, the writing, characterisation and plot simply didn’t live up to the promise of the first novel. I was particularly frustrated by major changes in the character of Arren himself – the enormous difference between how he was written in The Dark Griffin and how he is shown here is simply too overt, and not sufficiently supported by the underpinning plot. Another small annoyance that kept jolting me out of the story were the names the author applied – with Skade and Skandar both in close contact with Arren (also called Arrenadd, which gets tough when the character of Arddryn is introduced), and Arren’s grandfather called Skandar and father Skandarson, it becomes confusing at times – I understand the reason for the convention (except for Skade – that really irritated), but it still aggravated me.

In my review of The Dark Griffin I noted that the book wasn’t really aimed at young adults – to some extent, this book fits the YA mould a little better. Sadly, the writing in The Griffin’s Flight doesn’t live up to the ideas and at over 600 pages, it’s hard work at times. I still like the premise, and the book isn’t bad, exactly;it just doesn’t meet the high expectations I had based on the first book – I wanted it to be even better, not a step down. So this is a lukewarm review from me, but one that is based on my own anticipation more than the flaws of the work (although I do think a stronger editorial hand would have immensely improved the book) – I’m certain other readers will still enjoy it!

The Griffin’s War

KJ Taylor

Harper Voyager (2010)

ISBN: 978-0-7322-8854-9

The Fallen Moon Book #3

The dark griffin Skandar, along with the griffin/woman Skade, search to find Arrenadd, who is both saviour and destroyer. Plans for vengeance by those who survived the destruction of the griffin city dog the Northerners at every turn – who will survive the clash of two peoples?

I struggled with this book and I was very disappointed that I found it such hard work. I really enjoyed Taylor’s first book in this series, but the second and third have been a challenge. With book two, it was more that I was not as impressed as I had been with the first one, rather through any fault of the book itself, but this time, I think the story, characters and writing have really let the initial idea down. The complete reversal of characterisation really threw me for a loop, and this was never justified well enough to make it believable for me. The writing meanders and the action is poorly paced. The world building maintained its complexity, but was let down by a plot that simply did not, to me, make sense or live up to the expectations created by the first book.

It’s hard to me to give a bad review, particularly for an Australian fantasy series that showed such marvellous promise early on, but sadly, I can’t recommend the series based on the strength of one book. This just didn’t satisfy.

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Retro Review: The Blue Bloods

Melissa de la Cruz

Books 1, 2, 3 and 4 of the Blue Bloods series

Blue Bloods

Masquerade

Revelations

The Van Alen Legacy

(all published in Australia in 2010 by Atom)

In Melissa de la Cruz’s world, vampires are the “Blue Bloods” of high society. Reincarnated by a blood creation process, only 400 vampires exist, not always at the same time, and they are part of a complex Heaven and fallen angels scenario from millennia past. Two are even archangels, who descended by choice to watch over those who fell. Cruz has at the heart of her story the young Blue Bloods of this generation, who are maturing, recovering their memories of previous lives, and re-discovering their powers. Mimi and Jack Force, rich, gorgeous and powerful, are two of the next generation Blue Bloods, but there are others, and some of them, like Schuyler Van Alen, are different to those who came before.

Blue Bloods, the first book of the series, introduces us to a world of the super rich elite, peopled by vampires who call themselves Blue Bloods. While these vampires do require human (Red Blood) blood, they generally don’t terrorise or kill them, living hidden in plain sight as the rich and famous of their world. Schuyler Van Alen is part of this world, but feels isolated from it – her family’s fortunes have waned over the decades, which means while Schuyler is still schooled at the elite Duchesne school, she doesn’t command the respect of her wealthier peers and doesn’t try to fit in. When a student is killed however, Schuyler finds out she is more a part of the elite crowd than she could ever have imagined. With an unknown threat to all the young vampires, Schuyler finds herself at the heart of the hunt for the murderer, and on the front line of danger.

This first book sets up a somewhat different vampire scenario. The vaguely defined incarnation process is fairly mystical and while it makes sense in terms of how Cruz discusses it, the actual mechanics are pretty hazy, and Cruz often strays from her premise in terms of characterisation, which can be frustrating. And while this premise is distinct from the usual angsty teen vamp fare, the set up for the series itself is not unique – the Vampire Beach series by Alex Duval is a very similar set up, with vampires that exist as the top echelon of society, who quite happily live in the sun and who co-exist relatively peacefully with humans.

Possible SPOILERS for books 2-4 follow!

In Masquerade, Schuyler is desperately trying to find her grandfather, missing for decades, after her grandmother was killed by the Silver Blood. The Committee still have their heads in the sand, refusing to believe the Silver Blood has returned, so Schuyler, accompanied only by her human friend and Conduit, Oliver, is in Venice on her hunt. The mystery of her mother’s condition, alongside the uncertainty of her feelings for Oliver and Jack, and her concern over the ongoing Silver Blood threat, teases out threads of storyline that both continue from the first book and lead further into the next.

The third book, Revelations, finds Schuyler even more deeply involved in her relationships with both Jack and Oliver. Her new friendship with Bliss has seen her pitted even further against Mimi, who is at once jealous and dismissive of Schuyler. With her grandfather, Lawrence, out of the country on Committee business, and Schuyler trapped under the control of Mimi and Jack’s father, Charles Force, events charge along, and danger is ever present, in many different forms.

None of the books so far are completely self-contained – events continue from one book to the next, and while each has a big climactic event at the end, resolution is seldom the outcome. In an unusual move for this type of series, book four, The Van Alen Legacy, opens twelve months after the events of Revelations. Schuyler and Oliver are in France, on the run from what’s left of the Committee, who think Schuyler is responsible for the death of her grandfather. We also get a far more intimate point of view from both Bliss and Mimi, who have had their own life changes in the twelve months since the narrative left off. This book really finishes off the story arc, although there’s certainly room for more books to follow. I felt there were some continuity issues in this book, but nothing that couldn’t be glossed over without much thought. The resolution of the storyline was rather satisfying, and felt worth the time investment of the four books.

As I mentioned earlier, Cruz seems to stray somewhat from the premise she has established of how her vampires exist at times. This can get kind of creepy, particularly the incestuous nature of some of the relationships, which impacted on my enjoyment of the story – the “ew” factor tends to do that! It is explained, but it’s still icky, and having finished the first four books, I still can’t really find a reason that it has to be that way. Perhaps it’s supposed to increase the relationship tensions, but it doesn’t need to be included for the tension to be heightened. It may not impact the reading of others as it did me, but it was one aspect that consistently dropped me out of the story with the need for a brain-clean!

Having said that, I was surprised how quickly I powered through these four books – while I might complain about the lack of autonomy of each book, it did mean I picked up the next book immediately on finishing the one before, because I found myself invested in the characters. I think there are some faults with the writing and way the premise is presented, but it is still fairly compelling reading! The Blue Bloods series is presumably aimed at young adults (very little, if any, swearing, sex scenes are pretty much fade to black and few and far between, violence is not too graphic) although the incest aspect may turn some libraries off. A solid read though, and one of the more attention catching additions to the genre I’ve read.

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