Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Review: The Emperor's Mask

The Emperor's Mask The Emperor's Mask by Ben S. Dobson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed the first book in this magepunk series very much, and this one a little less, though I did still enjoy it.

The main problem was that I figured out at the 42% mark what the detective didn't figure out until the 74% mark: the identity of the villain. I'm not usually good at figuring those things out, so to me it's a sign that the author made it too obvious and/or his detective too stupid, not that I'm particularly insightful.

The author also needs to be alert to the rule for plural possessives: if a townhouse belongs to a family named Stooke, it is "the Stookes' townhouse," not "the Stooke's townhouse". Otherwise, the copy editing was very good, with just one or two minor typos.

Something that I particularly enjoyed was the zest for life that Kadka, the half-orc character, shows. She has a great sense of wonder whenever she encounters magic, and glories in a challenge that means she will have to fight against the odds. Battling against the odds, and against time, is something the characters do a lot, and there are some daring escapes and tense fights. There wasn't anything to quite equal Kadka jumping onto the airship in the first book, but that's a tough act to follow.

Overall, solid, and I would happily read a sequel.

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Monday, 19 February 2018

Review: The Book of Secrets

The Book of Secrets The Book of Secrets by Melissa McShane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My thought process when I saw this book while browsing Netgalley went something like:

Hmm, set in a bookstore, that's a good start.

Hmm, sweet-but-competent-looking young woman on the cover, also good.

It's by Melissa McShane? Sold!

My experience so far with Melissa McShane is that she writes smooth prose with very few errors, and indeed this was the case. I'm starting to think of her as the other Lindsay Buroker, the one who, instead of ensemble casts with amusing banter, writes determined, sensible, capable young female protagonists dealing with whatever gets thrown at them (supernatural and otherwise).

I did feel with this one, though, that it was somehow lacking in intensity. It shouldn't have been: we have Lovecraftian invaders from another dimension threatening the world, after all, plus a complete n00b dealing with magical politics in the wake of the man who had just employed her hours earlier being murdered, leaving her to deal with suspicious police and a magical bookstore for which the manual has gone mysteriously missing. (Having more than once been in the position of taking on a challenging new job with no documentation, I identified with that part.) By taking over, she's stepped on the toes of another young woman who saw herself as the designated successor, and isn't being mature about it. And there's a hot, dangerous monster hunter who turns up regularly to save the heroine (though she then immediately does something sensible and effective to underline for us that this is not a damsel-in-distress scenario; I appreciated that).

The thing is, the invaders have been threatening the world for centuries, and they're not threatening it any more than usual; they're dangerous, they kill someone in front of the heroine and pursue her and attack her, but I never found them ice-in-my-veins terrifying, somehow. The magical politics is conducted relatively politely by people who are mostly nice and helpful. The hot monster hunter doesn't offer much encouragement to the heroine to suggest that he's attracted to her in turn and things could become steamy between them. The murderer is notable for absence from the plot most of the time; the urgency of solving the murder seems low, amid everything else that's going on. And a couple of sudden shifts of what had seemed like intractable positions in the rivalry subplot kind of defuse that situation.

I certainly didn't dislike it. The characters are appealing, the setting is well thought out, the infodumps are competently incorporated in educate-the-n00b conversations. I'd happily read a sequel. I just thought it could do with more urgency.

I received a copy from Netgalley for review.

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Review: The Sisters Mederos

The Sisters Mederos The Sisters Mederos by Patrice Sarath
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I went into this somewhat hesitantly; "wealthy merchant house has a great fall, daughters seek revenge" isn't, to me, the most instantly promising premise.

In the event, I liked it. The daughters are skilled and determined; they take a lot of risks, but that's a thing that real young people do, and they carry it off. They're willing to brave a lot in order to unwind the mystery and gain their vengeance, though, in the event, the specific ways in which they invest most of their effort (gaining money from their former peers both by winning money at gambling and by robbing them at the point of never-adequately-accounted-for guns) don't turn out to be important to the plot's resolution. When the resolution does come, it comes somewhat abruptly and thoroughly.

The question of who can be trusted and who is on their side is prominent throughout, and the answers change a lot, sometimes suddenly and without much preparation, at other times with some foreshadowing. Although the sisters do keep some secrets from each other, at least for a while, the plot doesn't rely on this to create conflict, and they mostly confide in each other and work together.

On the whole, I felt the plot and characterization were competent and well handled, and the tension was maintained well. It isn't my new favorite, but it's a decent effort.

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Friday, 9 February 2018

Review: Into the Moonless Night

Into the Moonless Night Into the Moonless Night by A.E. Decker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third of this trilogy (though the final line leaves the door open for a fourth in the series) adds a new genre. So far we've seen fairy-tale comedy of manners/horror and steampunk mad science mystery; now we get shifter dystopian with a prophecy/Chosen One. I don't usually read dystopian, so I'm not familiar with the tropes, but this isn't a very tropey author in any case.

The extremely slow burn of the romance subplot continues, but is not resolved. In fact, the potential couple are in different places for much of the book.

There's plenty going on here: high stakes, characters new and old struggling for their own varied agendas, multiple clashing factions, and a race-supremacist villain (there's a nice bit about how, being mediocre, he has to slant the playing field in order to make himself superior). As with the earlier two books, I couldn't figure out in advance how all these threads would eventually come together into a satisfactory ending, but in this case I felt that they didn't completely come together. The ending felt abrupt, and a bit of a cheat; part of it was handed to the characters by someone they couldn't control or predict, rather than being earned by them directly.

It's a pity, because it was a good ride up to that point. That minor stumble isn't quite enough to drop it down to three stars, but, along with a few other small glitches and (in the pre-publication copy I got from Netgalley) an abundance of copy editing issues, the ending made this my least favourite of the three books.

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Thursday, 8 February 2018

Review: The Meddlers of Moonshine

The Meddlers of Moonshine The Meddlers of Moonshine by A.E. Decker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The interesting thing about this series is that it's one continuous story, but each of the books is in a different genre. Each book is complete in itself-no cliffhangers-but you wouldn't want to jump in partway through; each one sets up the next. (I received all three books together from Netgalley for review).

This one is steampunk, and if I didn't know better I'd blame the Steampunk Curse for the many copy editing issues on display. It is possible to have a well-edited steampunk book; it's just extremely rare, and this one is jam-packed with incorrect applications of the coordinate comma rule, along with some typos (mostly words left out of sentences), several misplaced apostrophes, and a couple of homonym errors (discretely/discreetly, site/sight). It's a pity, because it's another well-told story, this time of travelers in a steampunkish city who must battle corrupt and hypocritical authorities to bring about justice and solve an intriguing mystery.

The first book was relatively simple, almost all from the viewpoint of Ascot, the central character. This introduces a couple of other viewpoints, most interestingly the zany Rags-n-Bones. I was a little worried that the characters would fail to develop and remain just a collection of a few traits and a couple of tics, but each of them gains more depth, most of them gain more backstory, and they work more as an ensemble cast and less as a hero with a bunch of sidekicks (as in the first book).

I happily progressed to the third book, which turns out to be a dystopian, with shifters.

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Review: The Falling of the Moon

The Falling of the Moon The Falling of the Moon by A.E. Decker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book, along with the two sequels, from Netgalley for purposes of review.

A fun story which both celebrates and undermines the fairy-tale genre, with a half-human, half-do-not-say-vampire-we-don't-use-the-V-word going out from Shadowvale, where her people live, into the wider world to live her own life. Equipped with a book of fairy tales, she finds that real life is a bit more complicated-and, indeed, the plot has an impressive number of twists. In all three books, I found myself unable to imagine how everything in the plot could possibly be tied up, almost up to the point when it was.

Ascot, the main character, possesses intelligence, determination, a good heart, and some unlikely but appealing allies, and manages to use them to the best advantage. Both she and the book combine brains and heart.

I was very happy to have the second book on hand so that I could carry on reading.

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