I first encountered Nicholas Kaufmann’s fiction reading Chasing the Dragon a wonderful novella put out by the fine folks over at Chizine; it’s a wonderful little fantasy allegory about addiction that I highly highly recommend. When I spotted Kaufmann’s latest series of novels about a man who refuses to stay dead I pounced on them and devoured them wholesale back-to-back. Starting with Dying is My Business Kaufmann introduces readers to Trent. Trent works for Brooklyn crime boss doing odd jobs, particularly retrieving odd valuable objects. He has no memory of who he was beyond waking up in an alley several months ago. It turns out that Trent doesn’t stay dead. Every time Trent does die he wakes up minutes later healed of every wound and the person nearest to him sucked of all life. Dying is My Business lays out these details nicely opening with Trent waking up from one of these deaths. It’s a nice little in-media-res opening and Kaufmann does a great job of hooking you in the beginning then quickly outlining the, admittedly scant, details of Trent’s life.
California Bones by Greg Van Eekhout is the first in a new urban fantasy series that takes place in California. In the world of California Bones osteomancy is the form magic takes as power if gained through distilling and consuming the bones of other creatures. Daniel Blackland, the son of a famous osteomancer was present when his father was killed by the powerful Hierarch of Southern California (I’ll leave to your imagination exactly how he was killed). Daniel escaped and was raised in the underworld of Los Angeles where he has survived through his wits and using just enough of the magic his father taught him so as to stay beneath the Heirarch’s radar. When his estranged criminal mentor contacts him for one last job Daniel assembles an Ocean’s 11 style magical team to rob the heart of the Hierarch’s magical kingdom, the La Brea Tar Pits.
I love reading series fiction. I’m less a fan of reviewing it; particularly when it comes to long-running series. When you’re looking at a trilogy this aren’t so bad but when a series is 15 books in things get difficult. Who is the review aimed at? New readers picking up Skin Game certainly aren’t going to have the same experience as long-vested fans and I’ve been reading this series so long that I’m not even sure how a new reader would react to Skin Game on its own. While Butcher’s Dresden Files don’t really break down into distinct arcs I feel like the last several novels starting with, appropriately enough, Changes have been a sort of transitional shift in narrative both in terms of Harry’s character and the focus of the plot itself. Where the early focus of the novels was primarily on Harry dealing with the magical shenanigans in and around Chicago the scope of the series has gradually broadened to encompass something much larger. It hasn’t been until the last several novels where the scope and nature of magical conflict in Harry’s world has really come into focus and I’m beginning to suspect that Butcher has something epic in store as the series winds towards its conclusion (Butcher envisions 20
“casebooks” plut a 3 book “apocalyptic trilogy“). Changes’ finale started a new chapter in Harry’s life with a single gunshot. Since then Ghost Story and Cold Days were transitional novels as Harry deals with the fallout of his decisions and actions. With Skin Game I feel like readers get the first glimpses of light at the end of a long tunnel of darkness that Harry has been travelling down. There has been a certain air of melancholy and isolation in the previous novels that is markedly present in the beginning of Skin Game but is slowly peeled away the further we get into the novel.
The Dirty Streets of Heaven
Angels are not a subject in many fantasy novels I come across. They are rarely a presence in your traditional epic or quest fantasies and don’t frequently make the jump from the YA market to the adult market. As a side bar and somewhat oddly there are not one but two different Fallen series for the YA market starring angels one by Thomas E. Sniegowski (whose crime solving angel Remy Chandler has his own adult series) and the more recent series by Lauren Kate. Angels in fantasy fiction, particularly in the adult market, are almost always relegated to the urban fantasy area with Neil Gaiman (Murder Mysteries and Good Omens), Jim Butcher (if a bit tangentially), and the aforementioned Sniegowski, being some of the few to have penned angel-centric tales with a more contemporary feel. Now, Tad Williams (Otherworld; Shadowmarch; Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn) has penned and urban fantasy book starring an angel (actually more than one) named Bobby Dollar in The Dirty Streets of Heaven.
Midnight Riot (US)/Rivers of London (UK)
Midnight Riot, more properly titled Rivers of London across the pond, is the first non-shared world novel of British author Ben Aaronovitch; his previous work was on original novels in both the Doctor Who and Blake’s 7 universes. I have a soft spot for urban fantasy. It is an inclination I fight more often then not and I’ve yet to hit upon all of the particular elements of urban fantasy that really get me excited. The one I’m most certain of is the sense of place. The characters of urban fantasy novels are as often a place as they are an actual person. Thankfully this is something that Ben Aaronovitch does exceedingly well.
M. L. N. Hanover (Daniel Abraham)
Pocket Books, 2009
Unclean Spirits by M. L. N. Hanover, a pen name for one of my favorite authors Daniel Abraham, is the first in urban fantasy series the Black Sun’s Daughter. While I didn’t have any major trouble reading Unclean Spirits it is a far cry from other works by Abraham. It stands head and shoulders above other urban fantasy books I’ve read, and its excellent pacing and smooth prose makes Unclean Spirits a quick read.
Unclean Spirits opens with the troubled 22 year-old Jayné Heller arriving in Denver as the inheritor of her uncle’s estate. Of course there was more, much more, to her uncle than Jayné ever expected and she soon finds herself dealing with the sinister Randolph Coin; the same man who orchestrated her uncle’s death. Turns out Eric and those he knew dealt with some of the nasty things that jump into our world from elsewhere. It isn’t long before Jayné takes up her uncle’s quest; mostly in the name of vengeance for the man who helped her throughout her life.
Rosemary and Rue (October Day #1)
I have a soft spot for urban fantasy. Plucky heroines, luckless detectives, murder, magic, and mayhem. When an urban fantasy is done right, when an author manages to blend our own mundane reality with other realities both strange and magical it is a wonderful experience that, long after the book is closed, will leave you looking askance at your everyday life. So yeah, I might scoff at the tramp-stamp be-speckled covers, I might groan at the paranormal romance plots that suffuse the genre but at the end of the day I’m still going to read the book and, even if I wouldn’t want to admit it, I’ll probably enjoy it. So when I heard good things about Seanan McGuire’s October Day novels I decided that it was worth a shot and nabbed a copy of the Rosemary and Rue via Audible.com with bonus benefit being that it was read by Mary Robinette Kowal (an accomplished editor and author in her own right).
Angry Robot, 2011
The first thing that drew me to Justin Gustainis’ Hard Spell is the cover. The layout, title and art style are all explicitly designed to mimic that of Hard Case Crime, itself a recent imprint (founded in 2004) whose covers are known to mimic pulp covers of the 40s and 50s. Always on the lookout for clever use of the fantastic combined with pulpish fun Hard Spell quickly jumped to the top of my read list. While Gustainis has written several other novels in the Urban Fantasy vein this is my first foray with his work.
Continue reading “Review: Hard Spell by Justin Gustainis”
Bloodshot by Cherie Priest marks what I would consider a significant departure from her earlier work particularly in terms on setting. While some of her work in the past has touched upon urban fantasy tropes, in so much that Boneshaker, despite its nineteenth century setting takes place in an urban environment and the fact that Priest tends to write strong female leads (Belle Boyd, Mercy Lynch, and Briar Wilkes in the Clockwork Century alone), Bloodshot represents Priest’s first full-on urban fantasy outing. Yes, Raylene Pendle AKA Cheshire Red, is a vampire and thief extraordinaire but Priest’s deft handling of character especially Cheshire’s distinct voice save this from the heap of other urban fantasies out there.
Changes is the 12th novel in Jim Butcher’s consistently excellent Dresden Files. Of all the series I read the Dresden Files is one I most frequently question whether or not I should even bother reviewing. Not because it isn’t good, but because it is so consistently excellent I find it hard to not recommend this series to anyone and everyone. Point in fact I’m almost convinced that when it comes pure edge of your seat action few authors come close be being as skilled as Jim Butcher. Changes weighs in at a fairly impressive 448 pages yet it reads like it’s half as long. As the jacket copy tell us it seems that Harry may be father by way of half-vampire ex-girlfriend Susan Rodriguez. Unfortunately for Harry the news isn’t as happy as it could be as it seems that in a bid for revenge against Harry’s meddling the nefarious and bloody minded vampires of the Red Court have abducted his daughter. Thus Harry sets out on a quest to save his daughter from certain death.