The Golden Boys: A Review of The Crown’s Dog by Elise Kova

Title: The Crown’s Dog (Golden Guard #1)
Author: Elise Kova
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Silver Wing Press
Publication Date: November 22nd, 2016
Kindle: 292 Pages
Source: Personal Purchase

A coastal summer is turned upside down by a violent murder, and a quest for lost pirate treasure turns into a hunt for the killer.

Jax Wendyll is the crown’s dog. As punishment for the unspeakable crimes that tourment him to this day, his life has been conscripted to the Empire Solaris. However, in an Empire afflicted by peace, his duties are relegated to unquestioningly aiding the antics of the youngest prince, Baldair.

Erion Le’Dan, a nobleman’s son, expects a quiet summer visit to the Imperial Palace, his only agenda to visit with his unlikely friends. But Jax’s discovery the legendary pirate Adela Lagmir’s old workroom inspires a hunt for her long lost treasure.

The pursuit of Adela’s truth takes the three men to the Imperial summer manor, built along the old pirate mainstays. When Adela’s trident is branded into a murdered servant, Prince Baldair’s summer amusement of treasure-hunting becomes a hunt to find the killer. But, as mysteries compound, the ghosts of Jax’s past may not be the only things haunting them.

“Next you’re going to tell me that you want to go find this long lost treasure.”

Baldair grinned like a fool.

I am late to the party with The Crown’s Dog. In fact, I didn’t even know it had been released until after I ordered my copy of Alchemists of Loom last month and Amazon suggested I also purchase The Crown’s Dog. So, of course, I did just that. How could I turn down an opportunity to return to the world of Air Awakens with Baldair at my side? My biggest complaint about Crystal Crowned was the distinct lack of the Heartbreaker Prince.

If you are unfamiliar with Air Awakens, it is a fast-paced fantasy series set in a world similar to that of Avatar the Last Airbender. Kova makes sure that each book is packed full of action, romance, and suspense. But as this review is not about that series, I will refrain from discussing it in too much detail. That said, throughout the series you meet Prince Baldair Solaris, the spare heir, and his personal retinue, known as The Golden Guard. The Crown’s Dog is the first in a prequel series that tells the story of how The Guard was formed.

With a title like The Crown’s Dog, I was assuming the book would tell Jax Wendyll’s origin story. That story would have interested me a great deal. However, that was not the story Kova told. Instead we got a tale of pirate’s curses, murder, and deception. It was not at all what I had planned for, but it was exactly what I wanted.

The story is told from two perspectives, that of Jax Wendyll, a fallen Lord of the West who has been conscripted into service of the crown, and Erion Le’Dan, the nobelman’s son who saved his life. Both men serve Prince Baldair Solaris as personal guards and companions. The swap in perspective is, as always, extremely well done and while Baldair does not have PoV chapters, his character development does not fall behind his partners in crime. In fact, watching the group develop together is one of the delights of this novel. This is bromance at its finest.

I was also quite surprised at the amount of world building in this novel. I assumed that since it took place in the same world as Air Awakens that we would be left with the information that we had previously gathered. Thankfully, Kova took this as an opportunity to show us corners of her world that we had yet to visit and even gifted us with lovely maps in the front of the novel. Believe me when I say that you will love Oparium just as much if not more than Solarin.

Reading The Crown’s Dog was like reuniting with an old friend. It took me back to a world I love and made me fall in love with some of my favorite characters all over again. My only complaint is that I was expecting the book to be a bit more Jax-centric than it was. That said, He still got some marvelous development alongside his golden compatriots. Now, if Elise Kova were to decide to write his origin story after all, well… I would certainly read that too.

While this is the beginning of a prequel series and the events of this novel take place before the events of Air Awakens, I would recommend reading this after the original series. There are no spoilers and you can certainly read this series first, but I feel like you will have a better grasp of the world and how the characters relate to it and each other if you read them in order of publication.

I highly recommend this book for fans of the Air Awakens series, as well as to readers who enjoy fast paced romance-light fantasy with an emphasis on friendship. Also, if you love pirates, I suggest giving this one a go.

- The Butcher (1)

Of Myths and Monsters: A Review of Fear the Drowning Deep by Sarah Glenn Marsh


Title:
 Fear the Drowning Deep
Author: Sarah Glenn Marsh
Genre: Fantasy / Romance
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Publication Date:  October 11th, 2016
Hardback: 304 Pages
Source: Personal Purchase

Witch’s apprentice Bridey Corkill has hated the ocean ever since she watched her granddad dive in and drown with a smile on his face. So when a dead girl rolls in with the tide in the summer of 1913, sixteen-year-old Bridey suspects that whatever compelled her granddad to leap into the sea has made its return to the Isle of Man.

Soon, villagers are vanishing in the night, but no one shares Bridey’s suspicions about the sea. No one but the island’s witch, who isn’t as frightening as she first appears, and the handsome dark-haired lad Bridey rescues from a grim and watery fate. The cause of the deep gashes in Fynn’s stomach and his lost memories are, like the recent disappearances, a mystery well-guarded by the sea. In exchange for saving his life, Fynn teaches Bridey to master her fear of the water — stealing her heart in the process.

Now, Bridey must work with the Isle’s eccentric witch and the boy she isn’t sure she can trust — because if she can’t uncover the truth about the ancient evil in the water, everyone she loves will walk into the sea, never to return.

“Nothing from the ocean is meant to survive on land forever.”

While not the horror novel it was billed to be, Fear the Drowning Deep nevertheless hit so many high notes with me that I wasn’t bothered by the lack of fear factor. The synopsis suggests strong notes of witchery and mysterious, murderous sea creatures, and quite honestly, the book doesn’t really deliver on those suggestions. What we get in Fear the Drowning Deep is a subtly eerie take on myths of the sea, one that is more evocative of historical fantasy than horror, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I want to make it clear upfront that the “witch’s apprentice Bridley” line from the blurbs is very much misleading. The witch, Morag, is more akin to a village herbalist, and Bridley isn’t her apprentice- she’s her housekeeper. If you’re looking for a book with a high magic/horror level, this likely isn’t the book for you. I wasn’t bothered by the lack of witchiness, personally. We do see several uses of low-magic in herbs, charms, and superstition-driven action, and for me those nods were enough. What I enjoyed most was how Marsh creates a palpable presence of dread within Drowning’s pages. The overall feel of the fishing village and its struggles is very real, and the fear that rises within the townsfolk as more and more of their number disappear believable. Bridley, as the only person who seems to notice the fantastical happenings surrounding their town, reads as a mostly sympathetic character who experiences more than a little growth from start to finish.

The book does have some problems, the most notable of which is the severe case of insta-love between Bridley and the amnesic foreigner Finn, who washed up on their stretch of beach. Insta-love is one of my bigger pet peeves, and while we are given a magical reason for it a bit late in the story, it was still a plot point that could easily have been left out of the final draft. It felt a bit as if the author thought there should be a romance, and so she included one, even though it wasn’t the best thing for the narrative. Finn is not a bad character, mind; he has a compelling personality, brings a rather unique perspective to the story, and his inclusion is necessary to the plot advancement. I just don’t feel that he fit as a love interest.

Fear the Drowning Deep is one of those books I enjoyed really for no other reason than it hit upon several areas that are happy buttons for me. Marsh deals with the superstitions surrounding the village “witch” in a well-researched manner, even providing accurate properties for the herbs and trinkets that Bridley gathers for Morag. The primary myths addressed in Drowning, that of the Glashtin, the shapeshifting waterhorse, and of the Fossegrim, the ghostly fiddler on the waves whose music calls a new bride to be drowned every night, are very well portrayed. The descriptions of the fossegrim in particular were very well done, and some of the more frightening in the book. The entire time I was reading this story, I had SJ Tucker’s “Glashtyn Shanty” running through my head- the mood of which, by the way, fits Drowning perfectly. Books that bring their own soundtracks unbidden to mind, are, usually, a success for me.

I would highly recommend Fear the Drowning Deep if you’re a fan of Gaelic myths and subtle horror, or are looking for a light read with an engaging setting. Despite its flaws, and the rather scattered marketing, I found it a fun and enjoyable read. This one will be going on my reread shelf, for sure.

cynsig

Flawed Fantasy: An Advance Review of The Dragon’s Price by Bethany Wiggins

Title: The Dragon’s Price (Transference #1)
Author: Bethany Wiggins
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date:  February 21st, 2017
eBook: 304 Pages
Source: Netgalley

When two warring kingdoms unified against a deadly menace laying waste to both their lands, they had to make a choice: vow to marry their heirs to one another, or forfeit their lives to the dragon.

Centuries later, everyone expects the sheltered princess Sorrowlynn to choose the barbarian prince over the fire-breathing beast—everyone, that is, except Sorrow, who is determined to control her own destiny or die trying.

As she is lowered into the dragon’s chamber, she assumes her life is over until Golmarr, the young prince she just spurned, follows her with the hopes of being her hero and slaying the dragon. But the dragon has a different plan. . . .

If the dragon wins, it will be freed from the spell that has bound it to the cave for centuries. If Sorrow or Golmarr vanquish the dragon, the victor will gain its treasure and escape the cave beneath the mountain. But what exactly is the dragon hiding?

There are no safe havens for Sorrow or Golmarr—not even with each other—and the stakes couldn’t be higher as they risk everything to protect their kingdom.

“I, Princess Sorrowlyn of Faodara, humbly submit to give my life,” I say, my voice strong, “to the fire dragon instead of giving it to the Antharian heir.”

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Dragon’s Price was an impulse request on Netgalley. Cynthia brought it to my attention on a recent podcast and I was in the mood for some generic Fantasy. Plus, who doesn’t love a good dragon story? I didn’t have high expectations going in, and I am glad I didn’t. If I had been really looking forward to this novel, I might have had a much harder time reading it.

I was hoping this book would be a girl power filled fantasy romp. After all, the blurb suggested that instead of pledging herself to an arranged marriage, Sorrowlyn chooses to face a dragon. I also found the idea of a matriarchal society to be promising. Sadly, while the crown passes from mother to daughter, the Queen’s Husband rules in her stead. It was clear quite early on that this novel was not going to appease my appetite for powerful female characters. In fact, she doesn’t even truly choose the dragon. She makes the claim initially, but when Golmarr, the youngest son of the Horse King, steps forward and offers to marry her, she instantly accepts. And, of course, when she is informed that her first choice stands and she is to be fed to the dragon, Golmarr goes into the abyss with her. She is a damsel in distress, after all. Princes can’t resist that.

Don’t worry. She doesn’t remain a damsel forever, but her development is extremely sudden. One moment she is the lonely girl who has sacrificed herself to a dragon and the next she is a warrior. There is a plot line that explains it. So, it isn’t completely out of place. That said, I would have preferred to see it progress slower throughout the novel. As it stands the character’s growth plateau’s less than half way through the book, and since the novel is in first person the characters around her suffer a similar fate.

Golmarr is your average knight in shining armor disguised as a Dothraki. If you are unfamiliar with The Song of Ice and Fire series or Game of Thrones, the Dothraki are known to be fierce warriors who breed strong horses and their men measure their prowess by the length of their hair. All of the above applies to the Antharian Prince. The Dothraki are, however, far more brutal than the Horse Clan featured here. While Golmarr fits the description on the outside, he is your typical fairy tale prince on the inside. He offers to marry a girl he has had two conversations with because he feels sorry for her and then when that falls through and she is lowered into a pit as dragon food, he follows her. Again, out of pity. Oh, and then when they manage to survive the dragon fight, which he was unconscious for a significant part of, he takes all the credit.

Their romance is essentially insta-love. The author attempts to combat this by stating that Golmarr only offers himself as Sorrow’s betrothed because he pities her. It is quite clear that he does not love her.  But, once they are alone with the dragon that is forgotten. He moons over her, she drools over him, and they are committed to each other before they leave the Dragon’s lair. Having known each other for just a few days at this point, the entire relationship feels forced. And since the majority of the novel (including the extremely predictable plot twist at the end) focuses on their love, I found myself losing interest around the halfway mark.

What drove me to finish the novel (aside from the fact that I hate to leave books unfinished) was the interesting concept of the Dragon’s Treasure. Now, we have all heard the stories of dragons and their hoards. In this tale, the treasure passes immediately from the dragon to the person who slayed it. Standard, right? Wrong. Dragons in this world don’t hoard gold and jewels. Their treasure is less tangible and can be anything. I was intrigued by the concept, but the portrayal of the dragons got in the way. I wanted them to be terrifying. Instead they were about as scary as the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk. You know they want to eat you because they told you so a million times… in the cheesiest way possible.

If you are looking for a quick and easy read on a Saturday afternoon and do not mind that the characters aren’t believable or that the dialogue is cringe-worthy, then this might be for you. Unfortunately, it really didn’t do anything for me.

 

- The Butcher (1)

Trope University: A Review of Eerie by C.M. McCoy

28252234Title: Eerie
Author: C.M. McCoy
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Omnific Publishing
Publication Date:  December 19th, 2015
Paperback: 434 Pages
Source: Author

Hailey Hartley has just enrolled in the world’s premier supernatural university. It’s a school she’s never heard of, located in a town called The Middle of Nowhere, and run by a creature that’s not supposed to exist. But at least she got a scholarship…

Hailey’s dreams have always been, well…vivid. As in monsters from her nightmares follow her into her waking life vivid. When her big sister goes missing, eighteen-year-old Hailey finds only one place offers her answers–a paranormal university in Alaska. There, she studies the science of the supernatural and must learn to live with a roommate from Hell, survive her otherworldly classes, and hope the only creature who can save her from the evil immortal who took her sister doesn’t decide to kill her himself.  

“Those who look for a reason to fear will find one, and those without reason will follow.”

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Eerie’s premise promises a paranormal thriller-cum-romance, complete with a murdered sibling, a cursed heroine, and an enigmatic love interest. Recent high school graduate Hailey Hartley finds herself contending with the murder of her sister Holly, the knowledge that one of her best friends is practically immortal, and that the literal man of her dreams is all too real, all while attending a university in Alaska that focus on ParaScience. While doing so, she discovers that she has an affinity for ghosts, and befriends a banshee from Hell- who happens to be her roommate

Eerie could be perhaps said to deliver on its promises, if one were a thirteen-fifteen year old girl intent on devouring every Twilight-esque paranormal clone on the shelves. Unfortunately, I found it to fall more than a little short on several counts. While not a thirteen-fifteen year old, I do have a certain fondness for paranormal romance fluff. I didn’t have particularly high hopes for Eerie to be a paragon of the genre; however, I expected, after seeing the reviews and press, to at least find it a decent bit of brain candy. Instead, I found myself so angry at the travesty that unfolds within its pages, that I couldn’t even call it a mindless read.

The book starts off on poor footing. Hailey, and her plot device sister Holly, have the exact same voice. During the few pages in which we see them interacting, I had to keep stopping to remind myself of which sister was which. While I understand that Holly existed only as a plot device, when she dies (quite horribly, I must add), we have no reason to be invested in her death. Hailey is, certainly distraught… except, she isn’t. Instead she has the inner strength and fortitude to soldier through and personally try to poke about Holly’s murder. The author gives us no reason to care about Holly’s death other than Hailey’s pain, and that pain is neither believable, nor compelling.

Also not believable is how nonchalantly Hailey takes the continual reveals of the supernatural within her life. The general world of Eerie does not seem to be one where monsters, ghosts, and magics are commonplace- yet Hailey never bats an eye at an offer of a scholarship to a “ParaScience” university in Alaska. Or that her “uncles” from Ireland made it across the ocean in less than a night. Or that Fin, who worked at her family’s bar, was actually an immortal in service to an Envoy. I could go on, but there are so many of these incongruities that I could fill up a book with them. Oh wait….

Bear Town University, where Hailey goes off to college, attempts to be the Hogwarts of the paranormal. It would more aptly be named the University of Ghostbuster Tropes. The only positive to getting to the university is that here, we meet the one character I found at all interesting. Unfortunately, what could have been a rather different and engaging concept, becomes yet another wooden prop for the main character. Giselle, Hailey’s roommate, is a banshee- from Hell. She cries cobwebs, is rude and hates everyone, and is slowly being redeemed by the Magic of Hailey’s Friendship.

At Bear Town, we also properly meet Asher, the Envoy of Hailey’s dreams- who, by the way, exemplifies every warning sign of an abuser. Asher takes a very possessive and demeaning approach to Hailey; if she does not do what he wants, he hurts her. He manipulates Fin into hurting her, so that she will stop caring about Fin. He threatens to kill people who so much as speak to her crossly. But of course, Asher only does all of this because the Envoys don’t understand emotions. In fact, emotions are anathema to their kind; any Envoy caught displaying them is to be put to death. But he loves her so much, Asher will risk death for her, of course.

Eerie presents us trope within trope within trope, none of it in any sort of compelling manner. The main character is unsympathetic and wooden. The love interests represent the extreme examples of the worse sorts of partners. The setting and side characters are nothing but props for Hailey to bounce off. The villain of the story- because yes, we do have a villain- is so absolutely forgettable flat that I don’t even remember his name. It was, from start to finish, a disappointment of epic proportions. Do yourself a favor and skip this one.

 

cynsig

The Fantasy Formula: A Review of Frostblood by Elly Blake

27827203Title: Frostblood (Frostblood Saga #1)
Author: Elly Blake
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date:  January 10th, 2017 
Hardcover: 367 Pages
Source: Personal Purchase

Seventeen-year-old Ruby is a fireblood who must hide her powers of heat and flame from the cruel frostblood ruling class that wants to destroy all that are left of her kind. So when her mother is killed for protecting her and rebel frostbloods demand her help to kill their rampaging king, she agrees. But Ruby’s powers are unpredictable, and she’s not sure she’s willing to let the rebels and an infuriating (yet irresistible) young man called Arcus use her as their weapon.

All she wants is revenge, but before they can take action, Ruby is captured and forced to take part in the king’s tournaments that pit fireblood prisoners against frostblood champions. Now she has only one chance to destroy the maniacal ruler who has taken everything from her and from the icy young man she has come to love.

Fast-paced and compelling, Frostblood is the first in a page-turning new young adult three-book series about a world where flame and ice are mortal enemies—but together create a power that could change everything.

“You don’t know the effect your words have on me, Lady Firebrand. It took years to build up this ice. You will melt it and then I will be broken.” 

Frostblood was a constant struggle with Déjà vu. At every turn, I was called back to a different YA Fantasy. The pacing reminded me of Stealing Snow, the powers smacked of Red Queen, and the “twist” called back to Snow Like Ashes. There is nothing about this fast-paced Fantasy that hasn’t been explored before. I know that is not an uncommon occurrence in the genre. However, I do expect these ideas to be reinterpreted into something original. Blake fails to do that in Frostblood. If you have been keeping up with recent releases, it is safe to say that you have read this book before. More than once.

The tale follows Ruby, a fire mage of sorts, who is hunted for her powers. She is fierce, stubborn, and possesses quite the temper. As the book develops she remains largely the same. I was hoping to see some development from inept chosen one to powerful warrior. The author does assert this change; however, Ruby’s actions and dialogue fail to reflect it.

Brooding and secretive love interest, Arcus, suffers a similar fate. Had the author been a bit more delicate with her foreshadowing, I might have been interested in his past. Sadly, I had figured out his entire life story by chapter four. This, of course, also meant that I had figured out the “twist” as well. That left me very little motivation to finish the book, except to see if I was right. Spoiler alert: I was.

I found the world to be less developed than the characters. The author mentions countries and conflicts, but glosses over them. Leaving the reader to fill in the blanks with the setting. The religions were given a bit more attention, through childhood stories and prophecy, making the cultures feel more realistic than the environment.

The story in Frostblood is straightforward and wraps up neatly at the end of the book. With this being the first in a trilogy, I am curious to know what the author will explore in the sequels. Though, probably not curious enough to pick up the sequel in September.

If you are looking for a fast Fantasy read and are not picky this book might be for you, but do not expect to find vivid settings of well-developed characters here. Frostblood is an easy and predictable YA romp that focuses more on the romance than the details.

 

- The Butcher (1)

 

In These Eyes: A Review of Vicarious by Paula Stokes

26114131Title: Vicarious (Vicarious #1)
Author: Paula Stokes
Genre: Science Fiction / Mysteru
Publisher: Tor
Publication Date:  August 16th, 2016
Kindle Edition: 336 Pages
Source: Personal Purchase

Winter Kim and her sister, Rose, have always been inseparable. Together, the two of them survived growing up in a Korean orphanage and being trafficked into the United States. But they’ve escaped the past and started over in a new place where no one knows who they used to be.

Now they work as digital stunt girls for Rose’s ex-boyfriend, Gideon, engaging in dangerous and enticing activities while recording their neural impulses for his Vicarious Sensory Experiences, or ViSEs. Whether it’s bungee jumping, shark diving, or grinding up against celebrities at the city’s hottest dance clubs, Gideon can make it happen for you—for a price.

When Rose disappears and a ViSE recording of her murder is delivered to Gideon, Winter is devastated. She won’t rest until she finds her sister’s killer. But when the clues she uncovers conflict with the digital recordings her sister made, Winter isn’t sure what to believe. To find out what happened to Rose, she’ll have to untangle what’s real from what only seems real, risking her life in the process.

“Clouds of steam blanket the mirror as the scalding water turns my hands pink. I close my eyes and count to ten. My flesh protests, But I lather for another ten seconds and then rinse. The pain washes away the memories”.

Everyone wants something. More specifically, everyone wants something else- a life, a lover, and experience they can’t or don’t have easily within their grasp. Winter Kim and her sister Rose help their employer and guardian Gideon provides those experiences. For the right price, anyone can bungee jump off a cliff, swim with sharks- or break into a multi-million dollar corporation and steal sensitive documents. Gideon is the creator of VISE, a virtual reality technology that lets people record their experiences so that others can enjoy them. The VISE tech records sensory input; taste, touch, smell, sound… all of this captured so that the person playing the recording feels every tiny detail exactly as the recorder felt it. Winter sticks to her assigned jobs, mostly those of the less than legal nature, while Rose often moonlights recording more tantalizingly- and in some ways more dangerous- erotic fair, such as switch parties and intense club scenes. When a recording of Rose’s death is delivered to Gideon, a recording that doesn’t quite add up to reality, Winter becomes obsessed with finding out what really happened to her sister.

The hook for Vicarious promises a cyperpunk-esque murder mystery, and Tor’s video ad for the book only reinforces that impression. As a fan of both genres, I dropped Vicarious on my pre-order list the first time I came across it. It arrived just in time for me to take it along on a business trip, and it kept me engaged through multiple flight changes and layovers.

Vicarious almost disappointed me. I really was jonesing for a good cyberpunk story, and the tech elements were not as front and center as I expected. Yes, the VISE tech and Winter’s job as a recorder is central to the story, but at the same time, it wasn’t nearly so tech heavy as I was expecting. I was expecting something a bit more Johnny Mnemonic, or more reminiscent of the film Strange Days. While Vicarious’s plot certainly seems influenced by the latter, the VISE tech serves more as a vehicle for plot delivery and twists than as the driving force I expected.

However, I didn’t care. The book may not have delivered what I expected, but what it delivered instead was fantastic.

As we uncover more and more of the truth behind Rose’s murder, we also uncover more and more of the truth behind Winter. The author establishes from the beginning that Winter suffers from several mental conditions, the most significant of which PTSD brought about from their time spent as unwilling currency in the sex trafficking industry. Winter’s reality slowly unravels the longer she is without her sister, and the closer she gets to discovering the truth of what happened. I found myself completely engaged in Winter’s story and struggles. The murder, the corporate espionage, the blackmail threats- all of this was interesting and necessary, but they really served as catalysts to Winter’s development. She grows in a believable way throughout the book, and her struggles with her illness felt strikingly familiar.

Vicarious is not a story about a girl caught up in solving the mystery of her sister’s murder. Vicarious is a story about a girl struggling to maintain her control on her reality when everything she knows is falling down around her. It treats the difficult topics of PTSD, self-harm, and suicidal behaviors in a way that is believable, even within the story’s slightly futuristic framework. The twist at the end, well… let’s just say that it wasn’t the twist I was expecting.

Vicarious is the first of a duology, but was written to be a complete story in and of itself. If you’re looking for an engaging read that features a primarily PoC cast, with an alt reality future flair, I’d definitely pick up this one.

 

cynsig

Speakeasies and Sirens: An Advance Review of Iron Cast by Destiny Soria

28818313Title: Iron Cast
Author: Destiny Soria
Genre: Historical Fiction / Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication Date:  October 11th
Kindle Edition: 384 Pages
Source: Netgalley

It’s Boston, 1919, and the Cast Iron club is packed. On stage, hemopaths—whose “afflicted” blood gives them the ability to create illusions through art—captivate their audience. Corinne and Ada have been best friends ever since infamous gangster Johnny Dervish recruited them into his circle. By night they perform for Johnny’s crowds, and by day they con Boston’s elite. When a job goes wrong and Ada is imprisoned, they realize how precarious their position is. After she escapes, two of the Cast Iron’s hires are shot, and Johnny disappears. With the law closing in, Corinne and Ada are forced to hunt for answers, even as betrayal faces them at every turn.

“I’m not a nice person… so the sooner you wrap your head around that, the better. I don’t like people expecting me to be something I’m not.”

I received an advance review copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Ada is a songsmith; through her music, she can evoke from the listener the keenest loss or sharpest pain, sending them through their deepest memories in the space of a few bars. Corrine is a wordsmith; with a few lines of poetry, she can create illusions so real, they can fool a bridge full of people and press. In post World War 1 Boston, the threat of Prohibition looms over their heads, and the stage of their adopted home, the Cast Iron Club, like the Grim Reaper’s scythe, promising death to their way of life and income. Already, they and the other club performers are targets of the Hemopath Protection Agency, an agency dedicated to identifying those “afflicted” with hemopathy and removing them from the public sphere, and the more violent Ironmonger, vigilantes who will would rather see all hemopaths dead. To practice their arts is criminal. To not practice, unthinkable. Cast Iron owner Johnny Dervish gave them a safe place to live, and to perform. That he asks them to help supplement the failing club’s income through less legal means is merely the price they pay for safety. When that protection fails, and Johnny is killed, Ada and Corrine are determined to do what they can to save the Cast Iron, themselves, and their friends.

Ironcast is Soria’s debut novel, and what a debut it is! This book reads like classic Urban Fantasy of which I am so fond, evoking the same feel as authors who excelled in the format, such as Emma Bull or Charles de Lint. That said, while Ironcast certainly has the feel of Urban Fantasy, don’t go into it expecting magic, or high fantasy elements, like elves or wizards. This book reads more as historical fiction, with a paranormal/fantasy twist. Hemopaths, like our main characters Ada and Corrine, have a sensitivity to iron. It’s painful for them to hold or touch in the extreme, burning their skin like a brand. The presence of iron around them can cause extreme discomfort, depending on the amount; iron-free buildings, such as the Cast Iron club, are safe spaces for hemopaths, but those places are few and far between. Hemopaths can be thespians, artists, wordsmiths, or songsmiths- performers that can trick the mind, the body, and the heart, and make real the imagined. The use of hemopathic talent is outlawed in Boston, but, just as we see during Prohibition, people will still pay a high price for the forbidden. Soria’s world is rich and developed, and as a fan of this historical era, I can’t quite sing its praises enough.

The main characters of Ada and Corrine are well-developed. Their strong and enduring friendship is very believable, and they really are the driving force for the story. Soria manages to weave their histories and backgrounds into the telling of their present with almost seamless grace. Ada, as a biracial teen in this era, is already a target for prejudice; that she is a hemopath makes her an outcast among outcasts. Corrine comes from high society, a place where she never fit, and is hiding from her family’s eyes and name; if her affliction was known, it would bring ruin upon them. My only real complaint about the two of them is that Corrine’s personality overshadows Ada’s at times, almost, but not quite, to the detriment of their equal importance in the narrative. Otherwise, they are main characters that truly balance each other well. The primary supporting characters, Gabriel, Charlie, and Saint, are equally as developed as

the main, sketched quickly but fully, and our villains, who truly do get very little screen time, still feel real and powerful.

Throughout the narrative, Soria touches on social issues and prejudices that, while certainly period, also parallel modern issues. We see racial tensions, post-war immigration disputes, and the Socialism versus Democracy debate, all tied into the very real human fear of the Strange and Different. We also see a LGBTQ relationship portrayed both as a normal occurrence, and as something to be wary of publicizing. Ironcast tackles these topics in ways that are almost vital to the narrative, little nods here and there that may not seem important at the time, but in the final chapters weave together to lock the answers in place.

Now, all of that said, I did have a couple of issues of note, aside from my previous comment about Corrine overshadowing Ada. Ironcast starts off with a lot of action in the first fifty or so pages, then lags a bit for the next fifty or so. Once I got past that lag, however, I had difficulty putting the book down. I was truly invested in Ada and Corrine’s story. That Soria wove a mystery element into the plot likely helped with that; I do so love a good mystery. I also felt that the last chapter was truly unnecessary. It’s only in that chapter that I was reminded that this is Soria’s debut. The story could have ended with Chapter 22, and I would have been perfectly happy. The last chapter just didn’t mesh with the rest of the narrative; I feel as if it were an add-on because someone felt that we needed a “wrap-up” at the end to make things neat and tidy.

Still, I very much recommend this book. Despite receiving and electronic copy as an ARC, I will be purchasing it when it releases it in October, because I need to be able to see this book on my shelf. Iron Cast is a standalone story; as of this review, there is no indication of additional books to indicate a series. If you’re a fan of the Prohibition era, or subtle urban fantasy, or strong standalone stories, I really do suggest you give Iron Cast a shot when it releases. I sincerely doubt you’ll regret it.

 

cynsig