Tag Archives: urban fantasy

12. “Bayou moon” by Ilona Andrews

Publisher: Ace Books
Page count: 480 pages

“Bayou moon” features William Sandine, the changeling wolf and former Adrianglian special ops soldier who first appeared in “On the edge”. Like the first book, “Bayou moon” is set in the Edge, a strip of land located next to Adrianglia and Louisiana, two countries in the Weird that have fought a cold war for years. At the beginning of the story, William is recruited by an Adrianglian spymaster to retrieve a magical item that should give Adrianglia the upper hand in the war against Louisiana. William accepts the mission because it will pit him against a Louisianian spy called Spider, a twisted, evil man with magic abilities. William hates Spider because of his repeated murders of changeling children, and so William has made it his personal vendetta to kill Spider. The mission takes William into the Mire, a swamp in the Edge infiltrated by Spider and his crew.

Meanwhile, a girl named Cerise Mar living in the Mire discovers that the Sherilees, the neighbours with whom the Mars have been feuding for decades, have teamed up with Spider to kidnap Cerise’s parents in return for the Sherilees getting a property belonging to the Mar clan. To prove the Mars’ rightful ownership of the property, Cerise (who is head of the clan in her parents’ absence) must travel into the Broken to retrieve the deed. On the way back, Cerise, disguised as a hobo, travels on the same boat as William. When the captain of the boat is killed, Cerise becomes William’s guide to the Mire. While they do not trust each other initially, William soon realises that Spider is after Cerise and hence she is his best way of tracking down Spider. He therefore latches on to her (it doesn’t hurt that she’s also uncommonly pretty once the hobo disguise has been washed off…) Cerise, for her part, also takes to William once she gets past his Blueblood snooty facade and discovers his warrior skills and wolfish good looks. With her parents’ lives and her clan’s future at stake, though, this is hardly the ideal time for Cerise to fall in love with a dangerous stranger…

I was initially disappointed that this second instalment in the “On the edge” series didn’t feature Rose and Declan from the first book since I liked them so much. That said, “Bayou moon” is a good book in its own way, but for different reasons than “On the edge”. For one thing, “Bayou moon” has a far darker, more sinister setting and tone to it than the first novel – this adds to the murky atmosphere of the swamp where twisted monsters appear when you least expect it. For another, William’s tortured childhood and conflicted feelings around his home country of Adrianglia make him a far more nuanced and interesting character than Declan’s sunny disposition and loving family background, even if I felt William’s grief and longing for a family of his own was smeared on a little too heavily sometimes. And lastly, I thought the authors did a really good job in creating the supporting characters of the Mar family; while the sheer number of them could be bewildering, each person in the Mar family had enough of a distinct personality to allow you develop a rapport to them, too, not just to the protagonists. Overall, therefore, I think this is a decent sequel and well worth reading even if William and Cerise’s relationship is no match to that of Rose and Declan in the first book.

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11. “On the edge” by Ilona Andrews

Publisher: Ace Fantasy, part of The Penguin Group, 2009
Page count: 309 pages

“On the edge” is the first novel in a (for me) new urban fantasy series called The Edge. The series got its name from the Edge, a smallish strip of land caught between the Weird, a country filled with magic, and the Broken, a non-magical universe very much like our own. Residents of the Weird and the Broken seldom pass into each other’s respective universes, so the Egers residing in-between are usually the only ones to move between worlds. That is why Rose Drayton, an Edger with unusually strong magical abilities, is so surprised when she meets Declan, a haughty blueblood warrior stemming from the Weird.

Rose is instantly suspicious of Declan’s intentions, as well she might: not only has she grown up in poverty and ridicule with a mother who slept around and a father who left her to care for her younger brothers, but also Rose’s white flash (a sign of her inner magic power) has attracted nothing but trouble from families wanting her to breed with their sons to produce strong heirs. Consequently, when Declan shows up on her doorstep declaring that he won’t leave without her, Rose sets him three seemingly impossible challenges that he will have to overcome before she will agree to leave. Soon, however, it becomes apparent that foul monsters want to kill Rose and her brothers to consume their magic powers, making Declan something of a bodyguard despite Rose’s strong objections. Together (to quote the blurb), they “must overcome their differences and work together to destroy [the monsters], or the beasts will devour the Edge and everyone in it…” (cheesy, I know, but that’s basically what happens next).

So, for the review part: After breezing through the Kate Daniels series this summer, I expected the Edge-series to run in the same vein. And in some ways it does: both series are urban fantasy novels featuring a universe with elements of magic as well as the mundane, and both series have an evolving romantic relationship between the two protagonists. That said, it is blatantly obvious that “On the edge” was written by two authors with far more experience than when they published “Magic bites”, the first novel of the Kate Daniels-series. Where “Magic bites” showed promise in constructing a decent fantasy universe but failed miserably at creating any semblance of a plot, “On the edge” scores equally well for the urban fantasy setting but delivers far better goods in terms of plot and characters.

That is not to say that the reader is ever left in doubt as to whether or not Cinderella will end up with Prince Charming; after all, the nascent romance is pretty much implied from the blurb. But, to their eternal credit, Andrew and Ilona Gordon make the characters’ journey in getting there supremely entertaining and that, to my mind, is the whole point for this genre. I laughed out loud multiple times while reading this book, and am already looking for an excuse to re-read “the good bits” (writing this review was one of them). Assuming you like urban fantasy mixed with romance, I think you will laugh, too.

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1. “Magic bites” by Ilona Andrews

“Magic bites” is the first book in an urban fantasy series by Ilona and Andrew Gordon. The series is set in a postapocalyptic Atlanta, Georgia, where magic and old-fashioned technology alternately have the upper hand. Thus, at times magic flows through people, animals and cars, while at other times technology renders the magic wards on your house useless. The main protagonist is Kate Daniels, a kick-ass mercenary whose blood gives her magic abilities.

The story begins when Kate’s legal guardian Greg, the knight-diviner of the Order of the Knights of Merciful Aid, is brutally killed by an unknown magic creature. Endorsed by the Order, Kate investigates Greg’s death, with the help of unlikely allies such as Nick, a crusader, and Curran, the Lord of the Beasts. He is a werelion who heads up the local pack of lycothropes. Together they embark on a dangerous journey that will put their wits, magic, and fighting skills to the ultimate test…

“Magic bites” is a promising start of the series for several reasons. Firstly, it creates an exciting universe with lots of potential for future urban fantasy novels. Secondly, the characters are interesting both in terms of their personalities and the relationships between them, particularly between Kate and the Lord of the Beasts. Thirdly, “Magic bites” was fast-paced and thoroughly enjoyable.

When I don’t give it full marks, however, it’s because the plot is ridiculously predictable. Thus, it frustrated me as a reader that Kate took ages to figure out who the killer was when he practically spoonfed her hints throughout the book. Moreover it annoyed me that Kate insisted on hiding her magical abilities to her companions throughout the book when various events make it clear there is no other explanation. Whether these flaws are the sign of an author (couple) that is just inexperienced or, worse, that seriously underestimates the intelligence of the readers, I don’t yet know. Nevertheless I enjoyed the setting and the characters of “Magic bites” so much that I will give Ilona Andrews the benefit of a doubt and read more of the Kate Daniels series before I pass final judgement.

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21. “City of bones” by Cassandra Clare

Publisher: Walker Books, 2007
Page count: 448 pages

“City of bones” is the first part of The mortal instruments trilogy by Cassandra Clare. It’s the story of 15-year old Clary Fray who leads a perfectly ordinary life with her mom Jocelyn in New York. One night while she is at a punk club with her geeky friend Simon, Clary sees a stunningly attractive boy, Jace, on the dance floor. Following after him into a back room, she watches as Jace and his two friends Alec and Isabelle slay a demon right in front of her eyes. While Clary understandably is shocked to see a demon in real life, Jace and the others are equally stunned that she could see them and the demon, since normal people (“mundanes”) are not normally able to see through their disguises. The three teenagers are in fact Shadowhunters, a secret underground society whose purpose in life is to rid the world of demons. They do this through a combination of rigorous battle training, martial arts, and tattooing magic runes on their skin to enhance their natural prowess. And Shadowhunters are not the only secret society invisible to mundanes; they share the underworld by other downworlders such as vampires, faeries, warlocks, and warewolves.

Returning home, Clary finds her apartment wrecked and her mom missing. Searching through the flat for clues, Clary is attacked by a demon, but manages to kill it by shoving Jace’s steele (a tool for drawing runes) down its throat. No longer safe at home, Jace brings Clary to the Institute, a former gothic church now turned into a Shadowhunter sanctuary, where she meets Hodge, tutor and teacher for Jace and his adoptive siblings, Alec and Isabelle. Hodge calls for Jeremiah, a munk of the Silent Brothers order, to probe Clary’s mind in order to discover why she can see through magic disguises, but Jeremiah hits against a mental block in her mind. Clues in Clary’s fragmented memory identify Magnus Bane, the high warlock of Brooklyn, as the one who placed a magic spell on her memory. Clary, Simon and the three shadowhunters therefore crash a party that Magnus is hosting, but rather than getting the answers they are looking for, more problems arise as Simon is turned into a rat by a magic drink and is taken to a former hotel now inhabited by vampires. With the help of a teenage boy, Raphael, who lives next to the boarded-up hotel, Clary and Jace sneak into the hotel to rescue Simon, only to face a horde of angry vampires tipped off by Raphael, who is in fact the head honcho among the vampires…

In this trilogy Cassandra Clare employs a traditional fantasy story line in which the protagonist one day wakes up to who she really is, discovers her unknown magic abilities, and then sets out on a transformative journey accompanied by a few trusted friends in order to reach a goal. However, despite the formulaic storyline (which makes the twists and turns in the book fairly predictable to an experienced fantasy reader), City of bones succeeds because it does exactly what it sets out to do: it is a young adult fantasy novel, fast paced, and highly entertaining, with a loveable set of teenage heroes, an incredibly evil villain, and a modern, urban setting. What more can you ask of a fantasy novel to while away a Sunday afternoon?

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7. “City of the beasts” by Isabel Allende

Publisher: Harper Perennial, 2004 (translated from the Spanish, originally published in 2002)
Page count: 406 pages

Alexander Cold is 15 years old and lives in a quiet town in California with his parents and 2 younger sisters. When his mother, who has long been sick with cancer, has to go to Texas for treatment, Alex is sent to New York to stay with his fearsome and hugely eccentric grandmother, Kate. She lets him tag along to the Amazon where she has been commissioned by International Geographic to write a story about a mythical beast supposedly living in the rain forest.

Travelling up the Amazon from Manaus to Santa Maria de la Lluvia and further into the heart of the jungle, Alex and Nadia, the 13-year old daughter of their guide, find themselves in the midst of the adventure of a lifetime. They are kidnapped by the People of the Mist, an Indian tribe still living in harmony with nature and that has never before been exposed to modern civilization. Accompanied by the shaman of the tribe, Alex and Nadia travel inland to the mythical city of gold, El Dorado, seeking the means to protect the tribe and its way of life from the outside world.

“City of the beasts” is the first book in an adventure trilogy for young adults. I found it to be an exciting and somewhat surreal novel where especially the journey upriver is reminiscent of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of darkness”, while still being recognizably “Allendesque” in its magical reality narrative style. I do, however, think that the book could have benefited from being less heavy-handed in the way Allende spoonfeeds the reader her ecological and moral message of protecting nature and the indigenous peoples of the world; young readers are more astute and capable of making up their own minds than Allende gives them credit for in this book. That minor complaint aside, though, this is a highly readable and enjoyable book, and I have every intention of reading the remaining books in the trilogy about Alex Cold.

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