When a plague deadly to women sweeps through the aerial empire of Arthurise, doctor’s assistant Jonathan Gouden discovers that with the aid of a strange chemical called fantillium, he can create powerful illusions, which is key to finding an antidote. Unfortunately for Jonathan, the woman with the solution won’t help unless he agrees to be her champion in a magical arena. Heather Dixon’s ILLUSIONARIUM has some charms, but it’s centered around a flawed premise, and rushes through young adult tropes as if moving quickly will keep anyone from noticing the predictability. The system of magic which holds the book together makes no sense, and I had a hard time getting past it.
Posts By: Megan
I’m a little wary of a book that heads each chapter with the device, ‘In which …’ and, indeed, THE HANGED MAN by P.N. Elrod is fairly typical of the genre that mixes steampunk with the Victorian lady detective. Alex Pendlebury, ‘blessed’ with a paranormal gift, is on her way to spinsterhood, being far too straight-forward and observational for her upper-class peers, though she lacks the wry sense of humor of many of her fellows in the genre. Pleasant, though routine, THE HANGED MAN reminded me of a number of other books, cobbled together.
This steampunk western adventure includes a bevy in a brothel, a lethal sewing machine, and love at first sight. Elizabeth Bear introduces her audience to KAREN MEMORY (actually spelled ‘Memery’), a working girl at the Hôtel Mon Cherie with a penchant for dime novels and a huge heart that gets her into trouble. The ladies of Madame Damnable’s are worth following all on their own, but Bear sweetens the pot with a series of mysterious murders in the vein of Jack the Ripper. The novel’s only misstep is in mild over-plotting, but there’s no denying it’s one hell of an adrenaline ride at the end.
A very satisfying follow-up to Greg van Eekhout’s CALIFORNIA BONES, PACIFIC FIRE picks up ten years later when a collective of loosely allied osteomancers finally decide to fill the power vacuum created by the death of the Los Angeles Hierarch. Unfortunately for Daniel Blackland, former thief-turned-fugitive, their plan for mass destruction requires the sacrifice of the boy Daniel has spent a decade trying to protect. PACIFIC FIRE opens van Eekhout’s world of bone magic a little wider, and is still populated by the sorts of characters that made the first book so much fun to read. Once again, it’s a slow build leading into a hurried ending, but it’s a ride definitely worth taking.
In THE WITCHES OF ECHO PARK, Amber Benson introduces us to the Southern California “blood sisters” who, along with other covens across the globe, keep the world in balance. When coven leader Eleanora informs her great-niece that she’s dying, Lyse abandons her life in Georgia to fly to Los Angeles – and, unknowingly, to take her great-aunt’s place as an Echo Park witch. Benson channels Alice Hoffman in this novel, painting the Echo Park neighborhood in a way that should delight locals, and inform strangers. Though I found the first half of the book a little overly descriptive, the narrative overall reflects the dreams that are central to the story – including that feeling that the dream never quite reaches its conclusion.
SUSPICION by Alexandra Monir, is pitched as a modern version of the classic thriller Rebecca, and it definitely creates that vibe, along with a pretty solid mystery, and a dash of The Princess Diaries. Between that and the romance of reconnecting with a first love, this book didn’t need anything else – but it’s ‘urban fantasy,’ and so magic must appear. It’s rare for me to wish a story lacked a supernatural element, but with SUSPICION (a nonsensical title for the novel) enough is happening that the subplot about an ancestor with an unusually green thumb and the inheritance of “Elemental” powers just unbalances the plot.
In this retelling of ‘Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,’ Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed have mixed a little machinery with magic while delving into the Arabian culture, and bringing us a protagonist whose heroism is in his dedication – dedication to his craft, his family, and his desire to to what’s right. BABA ALI AND THE CLOCKWORK DJINN is a breath of fresh desert wind, and if the book suffers from some plotting and pacing missteps, it’s still a charming oasis for fantasy lovers looking to enjoy something a little less Western.
A THOUSAND PIECES OF YOU by Claudia Gray is a charming, romantic adventure across multiple universes, though as with many fantastical stories built on a vague, pseudo-scientific premise, the souffle falls if you poke at it. As long as you’re the type of reader who can ignore inconsistencies in the rules of made-up technologies, Marguerite’s dance between dimensions in pursuit of revenge, love, and loss should spark your imagination.
If you missed Sophronia Temminick’s Finishing School adventures as much as I did, you’ll love Gail Carriger’s latest trip to Madamoiselle Geraldine’s and the lessons in proper spycraft within the pages of WAISTCOATS & WEAPONRY. The wider supernatural world closes in on Sophronia and her friends as the werewolf drama that sets the events of Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series into motion happens while the ladies are learning the art of the bladed fan. With her friend Sidheag personally affected by pack dynamics, Sophronia has no choice but to get involved herself. It’s always a delight to go back to school with Carriger, though, like Sophronia’s first outing, WAISTCOATS & WEAPONRY feels more like a stepping stone in a larger story than its own novel.
THE LAST CHANGELING by Chelsea Pitcher is Ordinary People-meets-Maleficent – and if that sounds like a strange combination, that’s because it is. Almost all of the information given in the blurb on the back of the book is actually kept from the reader for more than a hundred pages, and Elora’s motives for attending a human high school are extremely vague. Instead of a faerie war, we mostly get Taylor’s still-fresh grief over losing his younger brother and the torment of his high school. Elora’s ‘otherness’ (not to mention otherworldly beauty) gives Taylor something to focus on aside from his family’s pain, but it’s a long time before the reader gets to know her endgame.