Book Review: When Sorrows Come (October Daye, #15) by Seanan McGuire

Title: When Sorrows Come (October Daye, #15)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: DAW
Publication date: September 14, 2021
Print length: 384 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Toby’s getting married! Now in hardcover, the fifteenth novel of the Hugo-nominated, New York Times-bestselling October Daye urban fantasy series.

It’s hard to be a hero. There’s always something needing October “Toby” Daye’s attention, and her own desires tend to fall by the wayside in favor of solving the Kingdom’s problems. That includes the desire to marry her long-time suitor and current fiancé, Tybalt, San Francisco’s King of Cats. She doesn’t mean to keep delaying the wedding, it just sort of…happens. And that’s why her closest friends have taken the choice out of her hands, ambushing her with a court wedding at the High Court in Toronto. Once the High King gets involved, there’s not much even Toby can do to delay things…

…except for getting involved in stopping a plot to overthrow the High Throne itself, destabilizing the Westlands entirely, and keeping her from getting married through nothing more than the sheer volume of chaos it would cause. Can Toby save the Westlands and make it to her own wedding on time? Or is she going to have to choose one over the other?

Includes an all-new bonus novella! 

I’m willing to put a stake in the ground and state definitely that all October Daye books deserve at least 4 stars. (Well, maybe not quite books 2 & 3, but the series was still finding its footing at that point, so we’ll just pretend those were growing pains.)

15 books in, I’m at that difficult point in a series where I love the characters so, so much that I just want them all to be perfectly happy all the time. But where’s the excitement in that? So naturally, even though this book is very much about our lead character’s wedding, knowing October Daye, it absolutely can’t go off without a hitch. And lots of blood.

In When Sorrows Come, Toby and Tybalt are finally almost at their wedding day. Toby very much wants to marry Tybalt, but also very much does not want anything to do with wedding planning. Just tell her when to show up, basically. And so, the whole gang is off to Toronto, to the demesne of the High King, to celebrate the couple’s big day.

And of course, they stumble right into a nefarious plot to overthrow the High King, complete with Doppelgangers, assassination attempts, and a household thrown into chaos. What’s Toby to do but wade into the thick of things, figure out the deadly plot, and still make it to her wedding in one piece?

The story is action-packed, but also leaves time for Toby to reflect on how her relationship with Tybalt has grown over time, her relationships with the other members of her found family, and what might come next in the tangled world of Faerie.

All the favorite characters are here, Toby has some lovely reunions with long-lost connections, and there are some teary-eyed sentimental beats that left me feeling swept away. Plus, as I mentioned, buckets of blood.

When Sorrows Come includes the humor and wit that feature in all Seanan McGuire books. I adore the writing! Some choice selections from minor moments:

One entire wall was ovens and stoves and open holes leading to oceans of flame that probably had some reasonable name like “pizza ovens” or “big fucking baking place,” but looked to me a lot more like gateways into the human concept of Hell.

… and …

Maybe the knowe understood that we really weren’t civilized people and was just trying to save us the embarrassment of me forgetting which fork was supposed to go in my salad versus which fork was supposed to go in the person I was trying to kill.

… and …

If everyone got to stab someone on my wedding day except for me, I was going to be even more annoyed than I already was.

… and …

Being fae doesn’t make you immune to being a massive nerd. It just gives you more time to really plumb the depths of your potential nerdery.

You get the idea.

I gave this book 4.5 stars instead of 5, mainly because the sedition plotline really is a way to prolong the lead-up to the wedding, and the more it stretched on, the more annoyed I got at the delay. Just let Toby and Tybalt get married already!

Needless to say, the book ends with the wedding, and includes a bonus novella at the end, “And With Reveling”, set at the wedding reception, that adds a nice little finish filled with humor and love.

It’s often a fear that in an ongoing series, once the wedding happens, the story is basically done. But clearly, Toby and Tybalt getting married doesn’t equate to a Happily-Ever-After, The End, Nothing More to Say. There are many challenges and adventures ahead of them, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

After their Land of Disney honeymoon.

In case it isn’t perfectly clear, this is my favorite urban fantasy series, and I recommend it to one and all. Start at the beginning with Rosemary and Rue (which I just re-read via audio this week), and keep going. It gets better and better, and you’ll love the characters as much as I do.

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Audiobook Review: The Time of Contempt by Andrzej Sapkowski

Title: The Time of Contempt (The Witcher, #2)
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Narrator: Peter Kenny
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: 2013 (first published 1995)
Print length: 331 pages
Audio length: 11 hours, 55 minutes
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Geralt is a witcher: guardian of the innocent; protector of those in need; a defender, in dark times, against some of the most frightening creatures of myth and legend. His task, now, is to protect Ciri. A child of prophecy, she will have the power to change the world for good or for ill — but only if she lives to use it.

A coup threatens the Wizard’s Guild.
War breaks out across the lands.
A serious injury leaves Geralt fighting for his life…
… and Ciri, in whose hands the world’s fate rests, has vanished…

The Witcher returns in this sequel to Blood of Elves.

It’s always confusing to try to keep track of the book of the Witcher series — an explanation is always necessary.

The Time of Contempt is the 4th book in the Witcher world, but it’s considered The Witcher #2, because it’s the second novel — the first two books are interwoven short stories, but they rightfully should be considered books 1 and 2. Anyhoo…

The Time of Contempt picks back up with the story of Geralt of Rivia, the Witcher of the series’ title, his ward/foster daughter Ciri, and the enchantress Yennefer. Our main characters spend most of their time separated from one another, but always trying to to reconnect or find a way to save the others.

Ciri is young and impetuous, trained as a Witcher but also with her own magical powers. In the company of Yennefer, she’s traveling to Aretuza, the academy for young enchantresses, where she’ll be enrolled as a novice. Meanwhile, Yennefer plans to attend a conclave of mages, where intrigue and alliances and plotting take center stage. Geralt is in pursuit of both, aware that there are terrible forces trying to locate and control Ciri, if not outright kill her.

It all goes to hell, as the conclave turns into a massive battleground. After briefly being reunited, the main trio is once again separated, with Geralt left critically injured, Yennefer’s whereabouts unknown, and Ciri isolated and forced to survive danger after danger.

If you’ve read this far in the Witcher series, none of this will be terribly surprising. The series thrives on thrusting the main characters into horrible danger over and over again. It’s at its strongest when we see them using their skills and their wits to outmaneuver, outfight, and outthink their opponents.

In The Time of Contempt, a lot of time is spent on political wrangling, and that’s where the story frequently lost me. There are kingdoms, kings, the kings’ mages, borders, fortresses, and all are seemingly at odds or in cahoots or shifting loyalties or betraying one another. It’s a lot, and maybe especially because I listened to the audiobook, I had an awfully hard time trying to keep all the players straight.

At the same time, I do truly love the narration of the audiobooks. Narrator Peter Kenny does a fabulous job with the characters, and I especially love hearing him do Geralt and the bard Dandelion. He also does a great Ciri and Yennefer, and excels at all the various accents the supporting characters of different countries and races speak in.

Overall, I have very mixed feelings about The Time of Contempt. There are some compelling new developments, but too much time is spent away from the main characters, and that’s where my attention and interest inevitably drop off. I found the politics too confusing to follow via audio, but fortunately, there’s a huge Witcher fandom and I counted on the various wikis to clarify matters for me whenever I lost track of who was who and which side they were on.

I do want to continue the series, and I have a hard time imagining sticking to the print version, since I’d really miss the sound of Geralt’s voice. Still, I’m a little hesitant, because I can only imagine that as the plot progresses, it’ll only get more complicated, and potentially all that much more difficult to follow.

If you’ve read the Witcher books, I’d love a little advice: Continue with the audiobooks, or switch to print? I guess the bigger question is whether it’s worth continuing with the series at all, but my gut is telling me yes! And how could I stop now?

Book Review: Calculated Risks (InCryptid, #10) by Seanan McGuire

Title: Calculated Risks (InCryptid series, book #10)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: DAW
Publication date: February 23, 2021
Length: 448 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The tenth book in the fast-paced InCryptid urban fantasy series returns to the mishaps of the Price family, eccentric cryptozoologists who safeguard the world of magical creatures living in secret among humans.

Just when Sarah Zellaby, adopted Price cousin and telepathic ambush predator, thought that things couldn’t get worse, she’s had to go and prove herself wrong. After being kidnapped and manipulated by her birth family, she has undergone a transformation called an instar, reaching back to her Apocritic origins to metamorphize. While externally the same, she is internally much more powerful, and much more difficult to control.

Even by herself. After years of denial, the fact that she will always be a cuckoo has become impossible to deny.

Now stranded in another dimension with a handful of allies who seem to have no idea who she is–including her cousin Annie and her maybe-boyfriend Artie, both of whom have forgotten their relationship–and a bunch of cuckoos with good reason to want her dead, Sarah must figure out not only how to contend with her situation, but with the new realities of her future. What is she now? Who is she now? Is that person someone she can live with?

And when all is said and done, will she be able to get the people she loves, whether or not they’ve forgotten her, safely home?

It’s that wonderful time of the year… when we get another InCryptid book! Calculated Risks is #10 in this ongoing urban fantasy series, and it does not disappoint in the slightest. Really, you could look at Calculated Risks as #9, part II, since the action picks up right where the previous book, Imaginary Numbers, left off.

Books 9 & 10 focus on Sarah Zellaby, a non-human member of the extended Price-Healy family, who are renowned cryptozoologists and deadly enemies of the all-powerful Covenant. There’s a lot to know about the Price family, which is why anyone new to the InCryptid series absolutely must start at the beginning. There’s just no way for these books and the complex relationships between the characters to make sense without the full picture and backstory.

Here in #10, our main character Sarah finds herself in a strange alternate world, along with her cousins Annie and Artie, her kind-of cousin James, and a cuckoo, Mark, who is of the same species as Sarah. Got that? Sarah has inadvertently transported all of them, as well as the college campus they’d been standing on, to another dimension, as a last ditch effort to stop the world from being destroyed as the side effect of Sarah undergoing a mathematically based metamorphosis. It’s complicated.

Now, in this weird world, Sarah’s allies don’t know who she is and treat her with suspicion. The sky is orange. There are huge flying millipedes. And indignity of all indignities, Sarah doesn’t even have a bra! Still, it’s up to Sarah to convince her friends and relatives that they know her, that they don’t want to hurt her, and that she is likely the only person who can get them home again.

The adventure rips along at a super-charged pace, but we also get lots of emotional moments too as Sarah faces distrust and rejection from people she’s loved all her life. The challenge of getting home again relies on Sarah’s ability to carry out a dangerous equation that can rip through worlds, and to do it without killing herself and everyone around her.

As always, Seanan McGuire’s writing is funny, quirky, clever, and highly quotable:

“I have so many knives,” said Annie. “I am the Costco of having knives. You really want to provoke me right now, cuckoo-boy?”

“I am not a good place to store your knives,” he said. “I don’t know how many times I need to tell you this, but sticking knives in living people just because they say something you don’t like is the reason no one likes you or the rest of your fucked-up family.”

“I don’t want to be a monster. I refuse to be a monster. I am a person, and people get to make our own choices about whether or not we bare our claws.”

“Mean girl from the murder family has a point,” said Mark. “Also, now that I have spoken those words aloud, please kill me.”

Do not be afraid.

I hate it when people tell me not to be afraid. They never do that when something awesome is about to happen. No one says “don’t be afraid” and then hands you an ice cream cone, or a kitten, or tickets to Comic-Con.

Calculated Risks is just as much fun as the preceding books in the InCryptid series. I love that the main characters in the series shift between different family members as the books go along, and I can’t wait to see who the star of #11 will be (although — sigh — that’ll be a long year from now). Meanwhile, between familiar Price characters, Aeslin mice (a sapient species of talking mice who worship the Prices as deities), and new friends (like Greg, the humongous leaping spider who becomes Sarah’s protector), there’s plenty here to love and enjoy.

Calculated Risks includes a bonus novella, Singing the Comic-Con Blues, which is a light-weight, upbeat adventure set nine years before the events of the main novel. It’s sweet and entertaining, and is a nice little treat for dessert after some of the more dire events of Calculated Risks.

The InCryptid series continues to be fresh, exciting, and full of surprises. Seriously, if you’ve never read these books, start at the beginning (with Discount Armageddon) — I’ll bet you’ll be hooked before you even finish book #1. As for me, I’m tempted to go back to the beginning, just to have the pleasure of experiencing the bonkers adventures of the Prices all over again.

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Book Review: Across the Green Grass Fields (Wayward Children, #6) by Seanan McGuire

Title: Across the Green Grass Fields (Wayward Children, #6)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: January 12, 2021
Length: 176 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: ARC via Netgalley; hardcover purchased

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A young girl discovers a portal to a land filled with centaurs and unicorns in Seanan McGuire’s Across the Green Grass Fields, a standalone tale in the Hugo and Nebula Award-wining Wayward Children series.

“Welcome to the Hooflands. We’re happy to have you, even if you being here means something’s coming.”

Regan loves, and is loved, though her school-friend situation has become complicated, of late.

When she suddenly finds herself thrust through a doorway that asks her to “Be Sure” before swallowing her whole, Regan must learn to live in a world filled with centaurs, kelpies, and other magical equines―a world that expects its human visitors to step up and be heroes.

But after embracing her time with the herd, Regan discovers that not all forms of heroism are equal, and not all quests are as they seem…

A new Wayward Children book is always cause for celebration, and Across the Green Grass Fields is no exception.

In this book, the 6th in the series, we’re introduced to a young girl named Regan. She has lovely, loving parents, and is crazy about horses and riding lessons. At school, she originally had two best friends, Heather and Laurel, but when Heather dared to express interest in something Laurel deemed un-girl-like, Heather became shunned — and Regan learned her lesson. To retain her place as Laurel’s best friend, conformity is all that matters. She has to embrace Laurel’s strict rules about what girls do and don’t do and do and don’t like, if she wants to not end up like poor Heather.

Laurel was one of the “lucky ones,” according to the girls who flocked around her in their ribbons and flounces, praising her developing breasts like they were something she’d accomplished through hard work and personal virtue, not hormones and time.

But when Regan learns an unexpected truth from her parents, she makes the awful mistake of confiding in Laurel, and then realizes that she’s just blown up her own world. Distraught, Regan runs away into the woods, where she sees an unusual door, with the words “Be Sure”. In that moment, Regan is sure that anything would be better than where she is now, and she steps through into an entirely new world.

In the Hooflands, Regan is the only human in a world peopled by different hooved species — unicorns, centaurs, kelpies, and more. She is taken in by a family of centaurs, who adopt her as one of their own and love her fiercely. With the love of the centaurs, Regan grows and thrives — missing her parents, of course, but feeling more and more that she’s finally found a place to just be herself, a place that feels like a real home. And it’s Chicory, the centaur daughter, who shows Regan what a real friend can be:

In Chicory, she had finally found a friend who liked her for who she was, not for how well she fit an arbitrary list of attributes and ideals.

The only downside is that everyone in the Hooflands believes that humans have a destiny. Humans show up rarely, but when they do, they’re meant to save the world…. and then they disappear. No one really knows the how and why of it all, but all believe that sooner or later, Regan will have to confront the Queen of the Hooflands and do whatever it is that’s needed to save the world.

Destiny wasn’t real. Destiny was for people like Laurel, who could pin everything they had to an idea that the world was supposed to work in a certain way, and refuse to let it change. If these people said her destiny was to see the Queen, she would prove them wrong. She wasn’t their chosen one. She was just Regan, and as Regan, she ran.

Through her years in the Hooflands, Regan learns about listening to people and seeing beyond their surfaces, about true friendship and family, among making choices and remaining true to oneself, and about accepting and appreciating oneself, putting aside the unrealistic notions of “normal” and “destiny”. Regan learns to be Regan, and sees that she can be strong and pursue the people and activities that make her feel whole and good.

Across the Green Grass Fields is the first book in the Wayward Children series that does not include the Home for Wayward Children at all, although I imagine that that’s where Regan will be headed next. None of the characters from previous books pop up here either, so this book really can be read as a stand-alone. Still, it fits into the great world of the Wayward Children series, with its portal worlds and missing children and quests for meaning and one’s true place. Obviously, as a fan of the series, I’d recommend starting from the beginning and reading them all!

Across the Green Grass Fields includes illustrations by the amazingly talented Rovina Cai, and although I haven’t received my hard copy of the book yet, I’m already enchanted by the images available on Tor’s website, including this one of the centaur family:

Illustration by Rovina Cai; from Tor.com

The Wayward Children series as a whole is a delightful, magical experience, and Across the Green Grass Fields introduces a wonderful new world and heroine. Highly recommended.

Book Review: A Killing Frost (October Daye, #14) by Seanan McGuire

Title: A Killing Frost (October Daye, #14)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: DAW
Publication date: September 1, 2020
Print length: 336 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

When October is informed that Simon Torquill—legally her father, due to Faerie’s archaic marriage traditions—must be invited to her wedding or risk the ceremony throwing the Kingdom in the Mists into political turmoil, she finds herself setting out on a quest she was not yet prepared to undertake for the sake of her future…. and the man who represents her family’s past.

14 books in, what is there left to say about my super-duper favorite urban fantasy series? I love these books, and A Killing Frost is no exception!

For those unfamiliar with the series, October Daye is a changeling, born of a human man and a powerful Fae woman. Over the course of the series, October (Toby) has come into her own as a knight and a Hero of the Realm, gaining strength in her magical abilities and gifts and setting out on quests to right wrongs. As she so readily admits, hardly a day goes by when she doesn’t end up covered in blood.

Toby is an amazing character, and the series as a whole is a richly detailed world, set in and around human San Francisco, with complex rules, hierarchies, relationships, and power dynamics. The characters are so much of what makes these books so good — Toby has a found family by this point in the series, including her sort-of sister May, her fiance Tybalt, her squire Quentin, and an odd assortment of friends and associates who love Toby and keep her always on her toes.

In A Killing Frost, Toby and Tybalt (King of Cats) are getting closer to setting a wedding date, when Toby is informed that if she doesn’t invite her stepfather Simon to the wedding, he or anyone connected to him can claim offense. And in Faerie, that can lead to dire consequences, including forced servitude or other truly unpleasant outcomes.

Simon, however, is lost. In book #11, he traded his own way home in order to rescue his long-lost daughter. After having reformed his nastier ways, he’s back to being a bad guy, having forgotten all the good in his life. Toby’s only option is to search for Simon, bring him back, and find a way to break the spell so that he can truly be found again.

I won’t give too much away. Naturally, Toby ends up covered with blood — mostly, but not only, her own. There’s danger to her and to her companions, and the damage is truly gruesome at times.

I was scared for Toby, especially toward the end, when I couldn’t see a way that her actions wouldn’t end in disaster. Naturally, I ended up surprised in all sorts of ways, especially by a huge new development that will have major ripple effects from here on out.

I feel confident saying that if you’ve loved the October Daye series so far, you’ll love A Killng Frost too. If you haven’t started the series yet… well, go ahead!

Obviously, I adore October Daye, and I love basically everything written by Seanan McGuire.

A Killing Frost is a total treat. And now it’s back to the sad state of waiting a year for the next book in the series!

Book Review: The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl by Theodora Goss

Title: The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, #3)
Author: Theodora Goss
Publisher: Saga Press
Publication date: October 1, 2019
Print length: 448 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Mary Jekyll and the Athena Club race to save Alice—and foil a plot to unseat the Queen, in the electrifying conclusion to the trilogy that began with the Nebula Award finalist and Locus Award winner The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter.

Life’s always an adventure for the Athena Club…especially when one of their own has been kidnapped! After their thrilling European escapades rescuing Lucinda van Helsing, Mary Jekyll and her friends return home to discover that their friend and kitchen maid Alice has vanished— and so has their friend and employer Sherlock Holmes!

As they race to find Alice and bring her home safely, they discover that Alice and Sherlock’s kidnapping are only one small part of a plot that threatens Queen Victoria, and the very future of the British Empire. Can Mary, Diana, Beatrice, Catherine, and Justine save their friends—and save the Empire? Find out in the final installment of the fantastic and memorable Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club series.

Now THIS is how you end a trilogy! Author Theodora Goss delivers another rolicking escapade with the brave women of Athena Club, adding even more “monstrous” women to the mix.

For those new to these books, the main characters are all the daughters of famous men — mad scientists and members of the Alchemical Society, who used their own daughters as subjects of their dastardly experiments. Their goal? Biological transmutation. The outcome? Unusual women with strange, hidden talents and gifts, such as Beatrice Rappaccini, who thrives on rain and sunshine and gives off poison with her breath, and Catherine Moreau, transformed from a wild, free puma into a young woman with decidedly sharp teeth and claws.

This found family also includes the two daughters of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, each one representing a different facet of his personae, Justine Frankenstein, Professor Van Helsing’s daughter Lucinda, and a young housemaid named Alice who turns out to have unusual powers of mesmerism.

In this 3rd book, the woman of the Athena Club have just returned from their adventures in Vienna and Budapest (described in book 2, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman) — but there’s no time to rest! Alice and Sherlock Holmes are missing, and there seems to be a terrible plot underway involving evil mesmerists, an Egyptian mummy, and a bunch of powerful, treasonous men who want to overthrow the Queen and purify the British Empire.

Luckily, our band of heroines are on the case, and they go chasing off to Cornwall to rescue their friends, save the Queen, and defeat the bad guys once and for all! It’s all high-spirited fun, with the quips and bickering that the characters seem to love so much.

I thought this was a terrific wrap-up for the trilogy, with heightened adventures and plenty of surprises and adrenaline-rushes. There are perhaps too many characters to keep track of, as the circle of acquaintances grows and grows with each book, but it’s all good fun.

If I had to choose, I’d still say that the first book in the trilogy, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, is really and truly the best, because of the emphasis on the main characters’ origin stories and their creation of a family of their own. But that doesn’t take away from how satisfying the other two books are, or how well all three fit together to create one glorious whole.

If you enjoy sparkling, witty characters in a Victorian setting, with touches of the fantastic and supernatural, then you just must check out the Athena Club books!

Audiobook Review: Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski

Title: Blood of Elves
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Narrator: Peter Kenny
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: 2009 (first published 1994)
Print length: 324 pages
Audio length: 10 hours, 55 minutes
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

For more than a hundred years humans, dwarves, gnomes and elves lived together in relative peace. But times have changed, the uneasy peace is over and now the races once again fight each other – and themselves: Dwarves are killing their kinsmen, and elves are murdering humans and elves, at least those elves who are friendly to humans… Into this tumultuous time is born a child for whom the witchers of the world have been waiting.

Ciri, the granddaughter of Queen Calanthe, the Lioness of Cintra, has strange powers and a stranger destiny, for prophecy names her the Flame, one with the power to change the world – for good, or for evil… Geralt, the witcher of Rivia, has taken Ciri to the relative safety of the Witchers’ Settlement, but it soon becomes clear that Ciri isn’t like the other witchers. As the political situation grows ever dimmer and the threat of war hangs almost palpably over the land, Geralt searches for someone to train Ciri’s unique powers.

But someone else has an eye on the young girl, someone who understand exactly what the prophecy means – and exactly what Ciri’s power can do. This time Geralt may have met his match.

Blood of Elves is the 3rd book in the Witcher chronology, although the book spine calls it The Witcher, #1. Which is just confusing. While Blood of Elves is the first novel in the series, it’s preceded by two story collections that form a crucial introduction to the world of the Witcher and the events in Blood of Elves. If you tried to start these books with Blood of Elves, you’d be hopelessly confused. So don’t do it — start with The Last Wish.

Got that?

Blood of Elves is loosely Ciri’s story — Ciri being the young girl who comes under Geralt’s protection after her family and her kingdom are destroyed by the invading Nilfgardians. Geralt of Rivia probably is way down at the bottom of men to choose as father figures, but Ciri and he are destined to belong to one another, and at the end of the previous book, he finally accepts this destiny.

In Blood of Elves, we follow Ciri’s education, first at Kaer Morhen, the stronghold of the Witchers, where she trains in the ways of Witchers, learning to fight with speed and cunning. But Ciri also has nightmares and spells where she seems to be channeling a magical voice, so Geralt calls on magician Triss Merigold to help.

Under Triss’s tutelage, Ciri learns more about herself as a person and as a young woman, and Triss is able to ascertain more about the strange trances that Ciri falls into. Eventually, Geralt brings Ciri to the Temple of Melitele to learn more formally, and finally, the enchantress (and Geralt’s true love) Yennefer arrives to train Ciri in the use of magic.

Meanwhile, Geralt is off on adventures, trying to both keep Ciri hidden from those who seek her for nefarious purposes and to discover who is behind the search for her.

While there are action sequences scattered throughout, Blood of Elves feels strangely static. There are long sequences where various parties just talk and talk and talk — mostly kings and advisors and magicians, deciding whether to go to war and what Ciri’s future might bring, if only they can find her and control her.

I enjoy reading Witcher books, but maybe because this one only follows Geralt about half the time, it didn’t quite feel compelling enough, especially in comparison to the terrific two books that precede it.

On the other hand, the narration of the audiobooks continues to be outstanding. Narrator Peter Kenny does a marvelous voice for Geralt — strong, sarcastic, understated — as well as very good voices for Ciri, Yennefer, Dandelion, and more.

Having listened to the audiobooks, I think it would be hard to switch over to print. There are so many scenes that are driven by dialogue, and these are exceptionally fun to listen to. And while action sequences can get confusing, there’s enough explanation to keep them comprehensible.

Blood of Elves was somehow not as great as I’d hoped it would be, but I still enjoyed it, and I’ll definitely keep going with the series.

Book Review: European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss

Title: European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, #2)
Author: Theodora Goss
Publisher: Saga Press
Publication date: July 10, 2018
Print length: 736 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In the sequel to the critically acclaimed The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, Mary Jekyll and the rest of the daughters of literature’s mad scientists embark on a madcap adventure across Europe to rescue another monstrous girl and stop the Alchemical Society’s nefarious plans once and for all.

Mary Jekyll’s life has been peaceful since she helped Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson solve the Whitechapel Murders. Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, Justine Frankenstein, and Mary’s sister Diana Hyde have settled into the Jekyll household in London, and although they sometimes quarrel, the members of the Athena Club get along as well as any five young women with very different personalities. At least they can always rely on Mrs. Poole.

But when Mary receives a telegram that Lucinda Van Helsing has been kidnapped, the Athena Club must travel to the Austro-Hungarian Empire to rescue yet another young woman who has been subjected to horrific experimentation. Where is Lucinda, and what has Professor Van Helsing been doing to his daughter? Can Mary, Diana, Beatrice, and Justine reach her in time?

Racing against the clock to save Lucinda from certain doom, the Athena Club embarks on a madcap journey across Europe. From Paris to Vienna to Budapest, Mary and her friends must make new allies, face old enemies, and finally confront the fearsome, secretive Alchemical Society. It’s time for these monstrous gentlewomen to overcome the past and create their own destinies. 

Oh, what fun! One of my most enjoyable reads this past year was The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, book one in the Athena Club trilogy. In it, we met the daughters of famous men — men who conducted monstrous experiments in the name of science, and left behind daughters bearing the scars of their work.

In book #2, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, this found family of heroic women is at it again. They’ve banded together to form a home and a family, finding happiness and belonging that they’ve never had elsewhere. A plea for help from Mary Jekyll’s former governess, Mina Murray, sets the plot in motion. A young woman named Lucinda Van Helsing is missing, and her father, Dr. Van Helsing, is suspected of being in league with the nefarious Society of Alchemists.

This kicks off the Athena Club’s next adventure, as they head to Vienna and then Budapest to rescue Lucinda and reveal the terrible conspiracies at the heart of the Society of Alchemists.

Along the way, there’s travel aboard the Orient Express, a meeting with Irene Adler (of Sherlock Holmes fame), circus performances, a battle with vampires, and a break-in/break-out from an asylum.

Our heroes show the pluck and bravery that make them so special, whether it’s the careful planning of Mary, or Beatrice’s special brand of poison, or Catherine’s claws, or Justine’s strength and moral fiber, they work well together while pursuing the cause of justice and freedom for the victims and survivors of the mad scientists.

I love how author Theodora Goss turns these famous stories on their heads. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein may have been published as a novel, but the Athena Club understands that it’s a true story, with Justine Frankenstein as living proof. Count Dracula makes a memorable appearance, but he’s not at all the person you’d expect. Sherlock Holmes is one of Mary’s mentors, but he only appears in the beginning parts of the story — it’s Irene Adler whose wits and abilities get a chance to shine.

My only quibble with European Travels is the length. At 700+ pages, it’s a bit of a daunting reading experience, and since the book itself is divided into two parts, perhaps it would have been better as two separate books. I think I might have enjoyed it more if I’d taken a break in between parts I & II — unfortunately, a little reading fatigue set in, so by the end, I was slightly less engaged, and I think that’s due to the size of the book — because the plot itself is exciting and creative throughout.

That’s really just a minor complaint. This book is definitely worth the time and effort!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how funny the characters can be. Young Diana Hyde is a bratty, brave teen with no manners, and she can be counted on to disrupt any serious moment by acting out in some outrageous fashion or another. Plus, the writing is just so much fun. The story we’re reading is meant to be Catherine Moreau’s novelization of the Athena Club’s adventures — and at regular intervals, her narrative is interrupted by the other characters adding their own opinions and criticisms of Catherine’s version of events. It’s clever and silly and just so delightful.

As a whole, I loved this book, and I love the series so far. With dynamic, strong, quirky characters and a plot full of intrigue and action, it’s a truly compelling read.

Can’t wait to dive into the third and final book, The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl!

Audiobook Review: Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor

Title: Akata Warrior
Author: Nnedi Okorafor
Narrator: Yetide Badaki
Publisher: Viking
Publication date: October 3, 2017
Print length: 469 pages
Audio length: 12 hours, 43 minutes
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A year ago, Sunny Nwazue, an American-born girl Nigerian girl, was inducted into the secret Leopard Society. As she began to develop her magical powers, Sunny learned that she had been chosen to lead a dangerous mission to avert an apocalypse, brought about by the terrifying masquerade, Ekwensu. Now, stronger, feistier, and a bit older, Sunny is studying with her mentor Sugar Cream and struggling to unlock the secrets in her strange Nsibidi book.

Eventually, Sunny knows she must confront her destiny. With the support of her Leopard Society friends, Orlu, Chichi, and Sasha, and of her spirit face, Anyanwu, she will travel through worlds both visible and invisible to the mysteries town of Osisi, where she will fight a climactic battle to save humanity.

Much-honored Nnedi Okorafor, winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards, merges today’s Nigeria with a unique world she creates. Akata Warrior blends mythology, fantasy, history and magic into a compelling tale that will keep readers spellbound.

As soon as I finished the audiobook of Akata Witch, I knew I had to listen to the sequel too. And after a lot of starting, stopping, and continuous interruptions, I finally made it through to the end!

Akata Warrior is a longer book and audiobook than Akata Witch. Akata Witch introduces us to the characters and world of the story, and does a lot of heavy lifting in terms of setting up the story and providing an exciting and dangerous quest for the main characters as they grow into their powers.

In Akata Warrior, a year has gone by, and the four friends — Sunny, Chichi, Orlu, and Sasha — are advancing in their magical studies. Their abilities are becoming more developed as they work with their assigned mentors. Sunny, our main character whose point of view we inhabit throughout the story, is being mentored by the formidable Sugar Cream, a regal older woman with unmatched powers, who sets rigorous standards for Sunny while introducing her to esoteric powers and abilities.

Sunny continues to have visions of a coming apocalypse, but doesn’t understand why or what her role is supposed to be. Danger to her older brother forces her to break Leopard Society (magic society) rules, and the ensuing punishment pushes her forward on a path toward a quest that she doesn’t fully understand.

As in Akata Witch, seeing the four friends together is a treat. They’ve all grown up, and their interactions and roles are more mature, yet they’re still in their teens and must abide by the rules set for them. At the same time, their magical abilities mean that they’re able to take on riskier tasks, and they show examples of ingenuity again and again throughout their adventure.

As I mentioned before, Akata Warrior is considerably longer than the first book, and it shows in the pacing. While the characters spend at least half the book on their quest, each episode along the way feels very lengthy and drawn-out, to the point where the action seems to sag a bit from time to time. It’s still engaging and exciting, but I would have preferred for a faster pace and less time spent on logistics.

Still, all in all, the world of Akata Witch and Akata Warrior is rich and fascinating. The author has an amazing ability to bring the Nigerian setting to life through her descriptions of sights, smells, colors, textures, and the food. Oh, the food! So many descriptions of eating and the dishes that sound amazing!

Akata Warrior has the same audiobook narrator as Akata Witch, and I just loved listening to her voice. Her accents and intonations for the different characters are wonderful, and each person comes across as an individual. For whatever reason, every time Chichi has a line of dialogue, it instantly brought a smile to my face!

I really enjoyed both of these books. I haven’t heard that there are plans for another book in the series, but a reader can hope, right? I do love these characters, and would love to follow along on further adventures.

Audiobook Review: Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski

Title: Sword of Destiny
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Narrator: Peter Kenny
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: May 19, 2015
Print length: 384 pages
Audio length: 12 hours, 58 minutes
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Geralt is a witcher, a man whose magic powers, enhanced by long training and a mysterious elixir, have made him a brilliant fighter and a merciless assassin. Yet he is no ordinary murderer: his targets are the multifarious monsters and vile fiends that ravage the land and attack the innocent. He roams the country seeking assignments, but gradually comes to realise that while some of his quarry are unremittingly vile, vicious grotesques, others are the victims of sin, evil or simple naivety.

In this collection of short stories, following the adventures of the hit collection THE LAST WISH, join Geralt as he battles monsters, demons and prejudices alike…

Ready to toss another coin to your Witcher?

Geralt is back! In this second collection of Witcher stories, Geralt of Rivia once more battles monsters, saves people who can’t save themselves, fights his inner demons — love and destiny — and returns again and again to the people who are central to his life.

This set of six stories covers a lot of ground, some already familiar from the Netflix series, some new to me, and all delightful. As with the previous collection, The Last Wish, there are some fairy tale references included that make these stories extra fun.

While each story stands on its own, there are key characters (Dandelion, Yennefer, Ciri) who appear repeatedly. While the stories seem to be presented roughly chronologically, they’re only loosely connected — yet I’m guessing as a whole that they’re important in laying the groundwork for the novels that come next in the book series.

As for the stories themselves, the book opens with the wonderful The Bounds of Reason, which corresponds to the 6th episode of the TV series, “Rare Species”, aka the one about the dragons. The plotline isn’t exactly the same, but the main points hold true, and it’s awfully fun.

There’s also a story that focuses on Geralt and Yennefer, a story set in Brokilon Forest where Geralt and Ciri meet for the first time, a Little Mermaid-ish tale, and more. Throughout, the recurring theme is Geralt’s struggle to understand destiny — does it exist? Are we obligated to follow it? Is destiny enough to bring two people together, or does it require something more?

I had the pleasure of listening to the audiobook, as I did with The Last Wish, and I loved it. Narrator Peter Kenny does an excellent job of bringing the characters to life. I just love his voice for Geralt, although all are quite good, and even when there’s a crowd scene or a big action sequence, there’s never any doubt who’s speaking.

As an added plus, the narrator SINGS in the story about a mermaid, since that’s what mermaid language sounds like. It’s amazing.

Now that I’ve finished Sword of Destiny, I abolutely intend to continue with the series, and most likely I’ll stick with audiobooks. Blood of Elves is up next. Can’t wait!