In this urban fantasy, fairy tales can kill. A person can get caught up in their story and then the narrative will carry that person to the forgone conclusion. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Sleeping Beauty, a Wicked Stepsister, or a Pied Piper, eventually the story will be too strong for you to ignore and then you will no longer have a choice.
Henrietta (Henry) Marchen runs an indexing team for the ATI Management Bureau. They are tasked with tracking down these narratives that just went active, indexing them (which is figuring out what class of fairy tale and how strong they are), and diffusing them before the story creates a body count. Sometimes the only way to diffuse a narrative is to take out the human at the center of the story, because they are no longer in control of their actions. Henry has to make some tough calls during this tale. Her little team is like family; they all have their hangups and they all care about each other.
In truth, I did find some aspects of this book difficult to keep track of. Once I figured out what was going on with the narrative, it got a little easier. Sometimes the long wordy explanations (which might have been a spoof on actual government procedure documents) was cumbersome and didn’t really help explain anything. Plus, they were a bit boring. Rather, the conversations between characters did the best to explain how a fairy tale can take over a small piece of reality and what, if anything, the ATI folks could do about it.
Other than that, there was some great stuff going on in this book. I liked thinking of modern Sleeping Beautys or Snow Whites trying to make their way working in an office or a daycare center. It often gave me a chuckle. My favorite side character was Sloan Winters. She was awesome! She got to say all sorts of cranky things I wish I could say at the office, and her team understood because that’s how her fairy tale built her. McGuire also pays a nod to the transgender community with a character and I thought that was well done.
There’s also this murder mystery going on. At first, it looks like random narrative attacks and there’s a few bodies piling up. However, the indexing team does love to analyze stuff so pretty soon it looks like there’s some sort of pattern and perhaps someone or something is controlling the narrative outbreaks. The murder mystery part took some time to get going, but once it did, it really added to the story.
Over all, I did enjoy this book, though I find McGuire’s other urban fantasy series, the Toby Daye series, much easier to get into. That series teaches you the rules as you go along, whereas this series tends to have big chunks of convoluted rules dumped on you, sometimes repeatedly. Still, I think it’s worth the time and effort.
I had access to a free copy of this book through the Kindle Unlimited program.
The Narration: Mary Robinette Kowal did a good job, as usual. I really liked her voice for Sloan, who is always snappish. She did a great job shifting from a character’s every day voice to their ‘possessed’ fairy tale voice.
What I Liked: Fairy tales are trying to take over my life!; Henry is a good choice for team lead; Sloan and her work attitude! So funny! So snappish!; the murder mystery; the team pulling together for the ending; great narration.
What I Disliked: There are some convoluted rules that are given in big info dumps; these info dumps are repeated.
Note: Even tho this is Book 3 in the series, it works mostly fine as a stand alone. Several side characters were introduced in the previous books but one can get the gist of the main character’s relationship to them without having read them.
In this installment of the series, changeling Toby is called upon by her friends to look into the case of several missing children. The children come from changeling households, non-fae parents, and the court of cats. She asks for info and advice from several quarters, but most sources are being quite vague. Eventually, she realizes the horror of the situation – Blind Michael has stolen the kids for the Wild Hunt! But that’s not all that Toby has to deal with – her own personal Fetch has turned up and Toby now knows she has a forthcoming expiration date.
This series has been good to me, providing hours of entertainment and this book doesn’t disappoint in that quarter. This book takes the series on a darker turn. Characters are irrevocably scarred by certain events. In general, it’s just a bit more serious and I found I enjoyed the higher stakes. There are still moments of humor, such as kids tossing things out of car windows and Toby’s Fetch, May Daye, is much more lighthearted than one would expect. So it’s not all doom and gloom – it’s well balanced.
The Wild Hunt and Blind Michael (who is a rather powerful First Born) are these two dark chaotic elements that really add to the tension of the tale. Blind Michael is bound by rules and Toby has to figure out what those rules are as no one is really willing to talk about the matter. There’s only so many ways to get into Blind Michael’s realm and she has to figure them out in order to rescue the children. Each path has it’s own risks.
There’s a bit of odd weirdness between Toby and Tybalt that becomes apparent right off the bat, and that was something that didn’t work for me because it’s not resolved in this book. I think (but am only hoping) the author is setting us up for something later in the series concerning these two characters, but even with that in mind, it just didn’t work well for me for this book. Their friendship has been off and on for the first two books and I’m starting to feel like the story is messing with me personally on this front. In fact, I was so frustrated with not knowing what was up with Tybalt in this book that I want to throw my hands in the air and say, ‘Call it quits or come clean you idiot!’.
Setting that criticism aside, Toby’s adventures in this tale had me on the edge of my seat. If I didn’t already know that this series is several more books in length, I would have truly worried for her continued existence. I was pleasantly surprised by her efforts, again and again, to rescue the kids from Blind Michael. Toby finally stops bemoaning the fact that she is a hero and accepts it. As the Wild Hunt can be unpredictable, there were plenty of little twists and turns I was not expecting in this story.
We learn plenty more about Luna and I especially liked this aspect. In the first two Books, it was mostly Toby who grew, but now the side characters are taking on more depth. The Luidaeg plays a big role and I continue to be a fan, albeit a very respectful one as I like all my body parts in their current arrangement. Quentin has to do some serious growing up in this book, and once again I had to worry if he was wearing the Red Shirt. Even Connor (aka Seal Boy) gets to be a bit more than he has in the past. Over all, this book was satisfying and I look forward to reading the next in the series.
The Narration: Mary Robinette Kowal has once again made a very good Toby Daye. I really liked how she pulled off this happier sounding Toby for the voice of the Fetch May. I could always tell the two apart because of how Kowal gave Toby her normal moody inflections and how she made May sound a bit bubblier. She did great with crazy Blind Michael and all the kids in his court. I continue to enjoy her harsh Luidaeg voice.
What I Liked: A bit darker than the first 2 books in the series; the Wild Hunt!; some side characters get more depth; great narration; the Fetch May Daye; Quentin has to row up a bit more; Toby finally accepts being a hero; several small twists and turns.
What I Disliked: The oddness between Tybalt and Toby lasts the entire book and is not resolved – it was also very vague which made it more of an irritant than anything else.
Note: Even tho this is Book 2 in the series, it works fine as a stand alone.
Toby Daye is a PI and a changeling. Her liege lord, Duke Sylvester of the Shadowed Hills, sends her to his niece’s domain to see what is up. Toby and her sidekick Quentin come across far more than they expected, the pile of bodies being a bad sign. Computer tech and fantasy weave in and out of each other in this urban fantasy.
I’m always a bit leery of SF and Fantasy mashups. They have to be done well for me to enjoy them and Seanan McGuire does not disappoint! Toby is sent to the small County of Tamed Lightning to see what January O’Leary needs, if anything. January does her best to dodge questions and her people all seem tense. But then a body is discovered and it’s time for Jan to come clean. Yet there’s something everyone is holding back from telling Toby and Quentin. Toby has to resort to some extreme measures to get answers. The mystery had me guessing up to the last bit of the book.
I really enjoyed having Quentin as Toby’s sidekick. He’s a young changeling, still in high school, and completely untutored in blood magic, which is Toby’s specialty. He was a really minor character in Book 1 (Rosemary and Rue) and it was good to see him have a more prominent role in this book, mostly because Toby needs someone to fuss over.
April the dryad was a pretty fascinating character. She tragically lost her family and January took her in and literally made a home for her within the computer system. So April has all these unexpected abilities because she is the first dryad to ever live within a computer. This is the part I wasn’t sure I would like, but the author did a great job of setting up rules and sticking with them throughout the book making it work well with both the tech and the magic.
The beloved king of cats Tybalt makes several appearances, which is a good thing because Toby really needed a reality check from someone at a certain point. The ALH personnel are quite an eclectic bunch of magical misfits and Toby has a hard time guessing the heritage (and hence the abilities) of some of them. Tybalt shows up on scene and is a help, not a hindrance, without being condescending to Toby.
Over all, it was a very enjoyable read. Toby’s got some interesting history that we get glimpses of. Her life can be a bit complicated at times. She can be a little harsh on herself. Yet she also takes on the hard chores when it’s necessary. All this makes her a captivating lead character.
The Narration: Mary Robinette Kowal is a great voice for Toby, sounding like a grown woman who knows her own mind. I really like her voice for Tybalt, especially when he is tossing out insults or wry observations. Kowal had a great teen kid voice for April that was nearly heart breaking at certain moments. There was this one scene where a Hispanic accent was required and unfortunately that did not come through well at all. Kowal’s Hispanic accent for Book 1 started off a bit rough but smoothed out with use; it seems to have backslid for this one scene in this book.
What I Liked: All the interesting place names, like Tamed Lightning; Toby’s personality and her messy love life; Quentin makes a great side kick; the mesh of SF and Fantasy works well in this story; the murder mystery had me guessing for much of the book; April’s innocence.
What I Disliked: Nothing – an excellent addition to the urban fantasy genre!
Set in the modern-day San Francisco Bay area, October ‘Toby’ Daye is a PI who investigates the normal, but also the supernatural. Being half-fae herself, she has quite a few tricks up her sleeves when it comes to detecting the truth. Toby Daye is also a mother and a fiancé. But then a case goes tits up and Toby is turned into a fish in Lily’s garden for the next 12 or 14 years. Afterward, she doesn’t want to live a fae life and she’s doing her best to cut all her fae connections away. The death of a friend pulls her back into the world with a binding curse.
Toby is awesome, for a lot of reasons. She has this whole backstory that we only get pieces of in this book and that past definitely affects the choices she makes. She isn’t perfect and sometimes she willingly lies to herself in an attempt to capture a few moments of happiness. She’s flawed and interesting, courageous and humble, clever and distrusting. All this makes her a great lead character.
When Countess Evening Winterose is murdered, a curse is set upon Toby to find her killer. She also has to keep an unusual and powerful item safe. In attempting to do both these things without being killed herself, she has to reconnect with her old fae life. She once swore fealty to the Duke of Shadowed Hills, who has tried to welcome her back since her fishy experience ended, only to be politely rebuffed by Toby. Then there is her old flame Devin of Home, who has a variety of unwanted half fae kids hanging around running odd jobs for him. Tybalt of the Court of Cats has stayed in her life, whether she likes it our not. Lily only has sway in her garden but has made it clear Toby is always welcome there. With this curse upon her, Toby must reconnect with all these fae characters and more to solve the case.
Toby isn’t the only one with an interesting past. The Duke’s wife and daughter also underwent an ordeal about the same time Toby was gone. It obviously changed them but we only find out enough to entice us to learn more. I loved Luna’s rose garden because it’s beautiful and a bit eerie. I love the amount of mythology pulled into the tale. It’s a great mix of the San Francisco that exists today and these bits of mythology. The story has a solid murder mystery feel to it also, taking itself seriously. There is definitely a price to be paid to find the answers Toby seeks. The story has a great mix of fae magic and detective seriousness. I’m looking forward to reading Book 2.
The Narration: Mary Robinette Kowal did a pretty good job, and was spot on for Toby herself. She had distinct voices for all the characters, though her Spanish accent was a bit forced. It became smoother as the story went on. I loved her gruff voice for the taxi driver and Tybalt’s pissed off voice.
What I Liked: A serious urban fantasy; San Francisco setting; bits of mythology; Toby has this past that we only get glimpses of; she’s struck with a personal tragedy early on; a curse pushes her out of her comfort zone; actions have consequences.
What I Disliked: Nothing – an excellent addition to the urban fantasy genre!
Folks, it is my great pleasure to have author and publisherDavid Lee Summers back on the blog. I was unable to attend New Mexico’s once-a-year scifi convention this year and asked (perhaps ‘begged’ is a better term) David to let me life vicariously through him. He was kind enough to offer up this guest post about Bubonicon 47.
I enjoy attending science fiction conventions because they are a wonderful opportunity to connect with fellow readers and writers. One of my longtime favorite conventions is Bubonicon in Albuquerque, New Mexico. There are an amazing group of writers who live in or near Albuquerque and regularly attend Bubonicon including Walter Jon Williams, Jane Lindskold, S.M. Stirling, P.G. Nagle, and George R.R. Martin. These writers, working with an outstanding convention committee, present a great set of panels and readings along with a diverse dealer’s room, art show, and gaming room. What’s more, the convention has a great name, given when Egypt placed travel restrictions on New Mexico because Bubonic Plague had been reported in the mountains east of Albuquerque. For most of the last two decades, Bubonicon has also been the convention closest to my home in Southern New Mexico. That honor was only recently supplanted by Las Cruces Comic Con.
The theme of Bubonicon 47 was “Women of Wonder” and featured an all-woman lineup of special guests. The guests of honor were Tamora Pierce and Catherynne M. Valente. The guest artist was Ruth Sanderson. The toastmaster was Mary Robinette Kowal (in her own words, she’s a toastmaster because she’s nobody’s mistress!). I was especially pleased to meet Ms. Kowal who, like me, had a story in the anthology of near-future stories 2020 Visions edited by Rick Novy. Another special thing about that anthology is that it also features Bubonicon’s 2016 Guest of Honor, David Gerrold. The convention schedule included such theme-related panels as “The Inescapable Romance Subplot: Passing the Bechdel Test?”, “Curse of the Strong Female: Pitfalls and Cliches”, and “Writing Different Genders: Your Point of View.”
Panels weren’t limited to the theme. I participated in such panels as “Whither Ghost? Dancing With the Definitely Dead?” where we discussed ghost stories and stories with ghosts. Of particular interest we talked about how ghost stories can take a science fiction twist when you imagine humans uploading their consciousness into a computer, becoming a “ghost in the machine.” I also participated in a science panel called “Red or Green: NM as Mars Analog” in which we looked at how sites in New Mexico can be quite similar to sites on Mars, to the extent that they can be used to test Martian rovers or be used as test beds for humans traveling to Mars. I moderated the panel, “It’s Alive: Scientists in Science Fiction” in which writers and scientists discussed how science and fiction have influenced each other. Our conclusion was that although there is a societal perception of a “mad scientist” trope and a certain distrust of science in the media, science fiction writers generally respect scientists and the work they do.
One of the highlights of Bubonicon for me is the Sunday Afternoon Author’s Tea. The tea, which is unique as far as I know to Bubonicon, was conceived as a way for the authors to say thank you to the fans who attend the convention. Seating is limited, simply due to limited space. Because of that, there are sign-up sheets for the three sessions, but there is no charge. Although there is no requirement to dress up for the tea, authors donate prizes and those who are judged to wear the best hat and glove combinations get to pick from the donated prizes. Those fans who attend have the opportunity to sample four teas donated by theSt. James Tea Room in Albuquerque. This year’s choices included Lady Londonberry, a traditional black tea with a hint of strawberry flavoring, Black Pearl, a black tea scented with vanilla, Hesperides Golden Delight, a green tea scented with golden apples, and Daybreak in Martinique, a Rooibos scented with lemon myrtle and French lavender. The authors also provide a range of sweet and savory snacks that range from smoked salmon and sausage balls to blueberry scones and lemon muffins.
When not speaking on panels, giving a reading, or pouring tea for fans, I hung out at the table for my company, Hadrosaur Productions, in the dealer’s room. This year, the dealer’s room was full of vendors selling books, comics, toys, and jewelry. I found a snazzy steampunkish pocket watch to replace one I broke earlier this year along with several wonderful books. The danger of hanging out in the dealer’s room is that my cash and I have a tendency to part company much too fast. That said, I do like spending time there because it gives me a chance to interact with readers and writers, which of course, is the whole reason I’m there.
Owl Dance is a Weird Western steampunk novel. The year is 1876. Sheriff Ramon Morales of Socorro, New Mexico, meets a beguiling woman named Fatemeh Karimi, who is looking to make a new start after escaping the oppression of her homeland. When an ancient life form called Legion comes to Earth, they are pulled into a series of events that will change the history of the world as we know it. In their journeys, Ramon and Fatemeh encounter mad inventors, dangerous outlaws and pirates. Their resources are Ramon’s fast draw and Fatemeh’s uncanny ability to communicate with owls. The question is, will that be enough to save them when airships from Czarist Russia invade the United States?
Book Blurb for Lightning Wolves:
It’s 1877 and Russians forces occupy the Pacific Northwest. They are advancing into California. New weapons have proven ineffective or dangerously unstable. The one man who can help has disappeared into Apache Country, hunting ghosts. A healer and a former sheriff lead a band into the heart of the invasion to determine what makes the Russian forces so unstoppable while a young inventor attempts to unleash the power of the lightning wolves.
Book Blurb for A Kepler’s Dozen: 13 Stories About Distant Worlds That Really Exist
A Kepler’s Dozen presents thirteen action-packed, mysterious, and humorous stories all based on real planets discovered by the NASA Kepler mission. Edited by and contributing stories are David Lee Summers, editor of Tales of the Talisman Magazine, and Steve B. Howell, project scientist for the Kepler mission. Whether on a prison colony, in a fast escape from the authorities, or encircling a binary star, these exoplanet stories will amuse, frighten, and intrigue you while you share fantasy adventures among Kepler’s real-life planets.
Book Blurb for Space Horrors:
Space Horrors is the fourth anthology of the Full-Throttle Space Tales series. Edited by David Lee Summers, Space Horrors contains blood-chilling tales of vampires and ghouls in space, by established and rising-star authors. Terrifying tales contained in this volume: “Poetic Justice” by Alastair Mayer: Space hibernation does strange things to a man. “Listening” by Anna Paradox: It’s Halloween on the run to Mars. What could go wrong? “The Walking Man” by Glynn Barrass: A giant robot on Mars is in the hands of mutineers. “Natural Selection” by Simon Bleaken: The Zoological Institute warned Rebecca not to go study the bugs. “Oh Why Can’t I” by C.J. Henderson: The Earth Alliance Ship Roosevelt is pitted against a world swallowing creature. “Last Man Standing” by Danielle Ackley-McPhail: Mining can be hard work, depending on who – or what – is doing the mining. “Anemia” by David Lee Summers: Vampires prefer the eternal night of space, it seems. “Chosen One” by Dana Bell: A particularly unnerving game of cat and…something. “Sleepers” by Selina Rosen: Sometimes the nightmare you wake from is not as bad as the one you wake up to. “Divining Everest” by Patrick Thomas: When the vampires call for help, you know it’s bad. “Into the Abyss” by Dayton Ward: Ghosts haunting the depths of space. “Salvage” by David B. Riley: Insurance investigator Sarah Meadows is on a ghost ship and in trouble. “The Golem” by Judith Herman: A friend in need is a deadly reckoning. “In the Absence of Light” by Sarah A. Hoyt: Have you heard of the drifters? “A Touch of Frost” by Gene Mederos: Space is a hostile environment – except for zombies, of course. “Wake of the White Death” by Lee Clark Zumpe: Who will rescue the rescuers? “Plan 9 in Outer Space” by Ernest and Emily Hogan: Making bad space horror more horrible ain’t easy.
Book Blurb for Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order:
Three vampyrs. Three lives. Three intertwining stories.
Bearing the guilt of destroying the holiest of books, after becoming a vampyr, the Dragon, Lord Desmond searches the world for lost knowledge, but instead, discovers truth in love.
Born a slave in Ancient Greece, Alexandra craves freedom above all else, until a vampyr sets her free, but then, she must pay the highest price of all … her human soul.
An assassin who lives in the shadows, Roquelaure is cloaked even from himself, until he discovers the power of friendship and loyalty.
Three vampyrs, traveling the world by moonlight—one woman and two men who forge a bond made in love and blood. Together they form a band of mercenaries called the Scarlet Order, and recruit others who are like them. Their mission is to protect kings and emperors against marauders, invaders, and rogue vampyrs—and their ultimate nemesis, Vlad the Impaler.