Book Review: Be the Serpent (October Daye, #16) by Seanan McGuire

Title: Be the Serpent
Series: October Daye, #16
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: DAW
Publication date: August 30, 2022
Print length: 384 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

October Daye is finally something she never expected to be: married. All the trials and turmoils and terrors of a hero’s life have done very little to prepare her for the expectation that she will actually share her life with someone else, the good parts and the bad ones alike, not just allow them to dabble around the edges in the things she wants to share. But with an official break from hero duties from the Queen in the Mists, and her family wholly on board with this new version of “normal,” she’s doing her best to adjust.

It isn’t always easy, but she’s a hero, right? She’s done harder.
Until an old friend and ally turns out to have been an enemy in disguise for this entire time, and October’s brief respite turns into a battle for her life, her community, and everything she has ever believed to be true.

The debts of the Broken Ride are coming due, and whether she incurred them or not, she’s going to be the one who has to pay.

Includes an all-new bonus novella! 

Some long-term ongoing fantasy series overstay their welcome. And then there’s October Daye, a series that 100% proves that there’s no such thing as too much or too long, so long as the writing and the plot make it worthwhile.

And in the name of Oberon himself, I’m here to declare that the 16th October Daye book blew me away, caught me in its spell, and will haunt me for the coming year (until #17 comes along).

In Be the Serpent, we pick up two months after the events of the previous book, When Sorrows Come. That book brought the long-awaited wedding of Toby and Tybalt — and being a book about October Daye, hero of the realm and a total bad-ass knight, it also brought plenty of bloodshed, mayhem, attempted overthrow of a kingdom, and an assortment of awful bad guys.

But hey, it ended with happiness! Toby and Tybalt are married — and in book #16, Be the Serpent, they’re living together in wedded bliss. I’m a little peeved that we didn’t actually get to see them enjoying their Disneyland honeymoon (I’d pay good money to see Tybalt on the Dumbo ride), but they had fun, and that’s what counts.

Happiness doesn’t last long, however. As the story opens, a hearing in the Kingdom of the Mists is just concluding when the children of Toby’s closest childhood friend begin to scream as if in dire pain. Rushing to their family home, Toby discovers a scene of blood and heartbreak. It’s almost too much to bear, and how can Toby share such terrible news with her dearest friend?

As the plot unfolds, true terror is revealed. And I really can’t say much more about the plot than that, because it’s a doozy and it took my breath away. What I will say is that events occur that upend Faerie as we know it, and that tie together storylines that go all the way back to the first book in the series.

The ending is a total gutpunch as well, and I can’t think of another book in the series that ended without our heroes being (at least temporarily) in a fairly good or at least safe place. The ending here is upsetting and nightmare-inducing, and I think I’m going to spend the next year really mad at Seanan McGuire for leaving me in such an upset state!

The book includes a bonus novella, Such Dangerous Seas, which is also deeply dark and sorrowful. (As opposed to the novella at the end of When Sorrows Come, which was basically a fun romp through Toby and Tybalt’s wedding reception — which now feels like a brief shining moment of joy before the horrors of Faerie came crashing back down). Such Dangerous Seas features the sea witch, the Luidaeg, one of my favorite characters — but it’s a terribly sad story about her earlier years and the awful things that happened to her.

Be the Serpent is shocking, heart-breaking, and scary as hell. It’s also yet another brilliant showcase for our hero Toby and her chosen family, who band together no matter what. Whatever happens to these characters, they love one another unreservedly, and their family ties, commitment, and loyalty are big pieces of what makes this series so special.

Having to wait a year for the next book is going to be terrible for my well-being! And I guess that’s a pretty clear indication of just how great Be the Serpent is. If you’re an October Daye fan, you’re probably already reading it!

And I’ll say, yet again, that if you haven’t read the October Daye series yet, you’re missing out on something special. Start from the beginning (Rosemary and Rue) — you won’t be able to stop!

Book Review: Soul Taken (Mercy Thompson, #13) by Patricia Briggs

Title: Soul Taken (Mercy Thompson, #13)
Author: Patricia Briggs
Publisher: Ace
Publication date: August 23, 2022
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Mercy Thompson, car mechanic and shapeshifter, must face her greatest fears in this chilling entry in the #1 New York Times bestselling series.

The vampire Wulfe is missing. Since he’s deadly, possibly insane, and his current idea of “fun” is stalking me, some may see it as no great loss. But, warned that his disappearance might bring down the carefully constructed alliances that keep our pack safe, my mate and I must find Wulfe—and hope he’s still alive. As alive as a vampire can be, anyway.

But Wulfe isn’t the only one who has disappeared. And now there are bodies, too. Has the Harvester returned to the Tri-Cities, reaping souls with his cursed sickle? Or is he just a character from a B horror movie and our enemy is someone else?

The farther I follow Wulfe’s trail, the more twisted—and darker—the path becomes. I need to figure out what’s going on before the next body on the ground is mine.

The Mercy Thompson series is one of my very favorites, and Mercy herself is one of my all-time favorite characters! As you can imagine, waiting 2 1/2 years for a new release felt like torture. But never fear, our long wait is over — a new Mercy book is here, and it was very much worth the wait.

Mercy is brave, strong, and fiercely devoted to her mate Adam, to their werewolf pack, and to anyone she sees as under her protection… which, as of several books ago, now extends to anyone (human or supernatural) living in the Tri-Cities area of Washington.

The pack has a sometimes smooth, sometimes uneasy pact with the local vampire seethe, and when their most dangerous vampire goes missing, it’s a sign that great evil is potentially at play. The fact that this vampire also has an unhealthy obsession with Mercy just makes it that much more important that he be found before very bad things start to happen to the people Mercy loves.

As in the rest of the series, there’s plenty of action and danger, and of course, Mercy and Adam end up with their lives in peril… repeatedly. The specifics of this book’s plot won’t make a ton of sense to someone who hasn’t read the rest of the series, so let’s just say that high points include a big reveal about a secret identity, some questioning about the trustworthiness of an old ally, and the reappearance of a deadly foe.

I love Mercy, always, and I especially love her in her quieter moments with Adam, when we see the depth of their connection. I also love every opportunity to see the pack spending time together, whether in battle or playing silly video games (and we get both in this book).

There’s also a brief mention of a continuing plot point from the Mercy-verse’s other series (Alpha & Omega), because these two series take place in the same world and there are characters who appear in both. (Just FYI, if you’re wondering why it’s been 2.5 years since the last Mercy book, it’s because there was an A&O book released in between). It’s only a small scene, one that doesn’t impact this book’s plot significantly, but it’s tantalizing enough to make me eager to see that story pick up again too.

A new Mercy book is always a treat, and Soul Taken made me incredibly happy, except for the moments when I was quaking with fear when a beloved character was at risk (which, let’s face it, is on and off throughout the entire book).

The plot was perhaps a little slighter and/or more opaque than some of the others in the series, but it does move certain characters and situations into interesting new positions for whatever comes next… and whatever comes next, I am absolutely here for it!

And now, it’s back to waiting for the next new release, hopefully in no more than a year… and meanwhile, I can always go back and re-read my favorite moments from the rest of the series!

PS – As always, a note of love for the awesome cover art by Daniel Dos Santos, whose work is just always so beautiful!

Book Review: The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen

Title: The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy
Author: Megan Bannen
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: August 23, 2022
Print length: 336 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Hart is a marshal, tasked with patrolling the strange and magical wilds of Tanria. It’s an unforgiving job, and Hart’s got nothing but time to ponder his loneliness.

Mercy never has a moment to herself. She’s been single-handedly keeping Birdsall & Son Undertakers afloat in defiance of sullen jerks like Hart, who seems to have a gift for showing up right when her patience is thinnest.

After yet another exasperating run-in with Mercy, Hart finds himself penning a letter addressed simply to “A Friend”. Much to his surprise, an anonymous letter comes back in return, and a tentative friendship is born.

If only Hart knew he’s been baring his soul to the person who infuriates him most – Mercy. As the dangers from Tanria grow closer, so do the unlikely correspondents. But can their blossoming romance survive the fated discovery that their pen pals are their worst nightmares – each other?

This Western-tinged fantasy novel about undertakers, marshals, and drudges (the undead) includes romance, the classic enemies-to-lovers trope, old and new gods, and so much more. The biggest surprise for me? It actually brought me to tears at one point! (And this is not an easy feat… I’m afraid I’m more of a hard-hearted cynic when it comes to tugging-on-the-heartstrings moments, as a general rule).

The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy is set in the town of Bushong, on the border of the sealed, people-less area known as Tanria. In this frontier town, undertakers do a booming business, as more and more people attempt to cross into the forbidden Tanrian wilds for profiteering opportunities — and often come back as corpses.

Within Tanria, untethered souls look for human bodies to inhabit, turning them into drudges, highly dangerous creatures that exist to kill. The marshals patrol Tanria and take down drudges when they find them, stabbing them through the appendix to release their souls, then bringing the bodies back to a border-town undertaker for death rituals (pre-paid, of course).

Fun fact: The human soul resides in the appendix. Now we know what that weird little body part is for!

Mercy’s family undertaking business is in dire straits when the story opens. After suffering a heart attack the previous year, her father is supposed to be taking it easy. Her younger brother Zeddie is expected to take on the mantle of running Birdsall and Son once he graduates from his training program… but Zeddie definitely has other ideas about what his future should look like. Mercy, on the other hand, loves the work and values the importance of carrying out the rituals and sending people on their way to their final rest with honor and dignity. But the undertaking business is a men-only affair, and despite having done the work for years, no one considers Mercy as the heir to the family business.

Meanwhile, there’s Hart Ralston, a demigod marshal who lives a lonely life, carrying out his grim trade and never allowing himself to get close to anyone. Four years earlier, when he and Mercy first met, they took an instant and deep dislike to one another (although I had a hard time understanding why, exactly), and nothing has changed in that regard in the years since then.

But things take a big turn when Hart writes a letter addressed to a “friend”, assuming it’ll just get lost out in the world somewhere. Due to magical mail deliverers (it’s a thing), however, the letter ends up with Mercy, who writes back. As their anonymous correspondence continues, Hart and Mercy unknowingly forge a connection that’s honest and deep, never realizing that they’re writing to their self-proclaimed enemy rather than their “dear friend”.

Eventually, though, Hart and Mercy are propelled past their hatred and discover it’s a cover for strong attraction, chemistry, even love (although still without sharing the truth about their secret correspondence). They fall passionately and emotionally for one another, but since this is a bordertown and there are drudges to slay, life doesn’t give them much room to savor their new-found love before danger strikes and threatens to separate them… permanently.

There’s so much to like about The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy! I enjoyed the banter, the Western vibes, Mercy as a strong, talented, professional woman determined to save the business she loves, and the various friends and family members who create the background community for the main characters. (And don’t get me started on the talking, hard-drinking bunny and owl who deliver the mail…) Hart and Mercy are terrific together, and even though we’ve all read a gazillion versions of the enemies-to-lovers story, somehow it still manages to feel fresh here.

I do have quibbles when it comes to this book, and the biggest for me is the incomplete and confusing world-building. With its Western vibe, I pictured a dusty, dry setting originally, but the location actually seems to be water-based and set amidst an island nation. The marshals ride equimares (singular: equimaris), which appear to be some sort of amphibian horse… maybe? They’re not really described, although there are references to webbed feet and they seem to be very good in water. For vehicles, people drive autoducks, which (I think) are some sort of amphibious truck… maybe?

The undertaking business has its own mysteries. Bodies must be salted and wrapped in sailcloth, and undertakers also build boats for the remains (which I assume are kind of like coffins) — which are usually then cremated or sent to the burial grounds… I think?

There’s a lot of exposition about old gods and new gods, who they are, where they’ve gone, why Tanria exists, etc… but honestly, the information seems to get dumped in big chunks and it’s too much to really keep track of — although I did like the incantation describing the death gods, which we hear from Mercy as she prepares a body:

From water you came, and to water you shall return.

You shall sail into the arms of the Salt Sea, and Grandfather Bones shall relieve your body of your spirit.

The Warden shall open the door unto you, and the Unknown God shall welcome you into their home, where you shall know peace.

I should note here that I read this book as an e-ARC (via NetGalley), and it indicates that a map will be included in the finished book. Perhaps if I’d had access to the map while reading this book, I might have had a better grasp of the setting, at the very least, even if the terminology and gods/religion remained unclear. I hesitate to criticize the book based on something that may be better in the final version, but at the same time, I’m writing to express how I experienced this book, and for what it’s worth, the world-building was incomplete and confusing from my perspective.

I initially found the book slow and didn’t feel absorbed right away, but by midway through, this definitely changed. Hart and Mercy’s breakthrough from enemies to lovers is the turning point of the story, and from that point onward, I was hooked! Their dynamic is sweet, funny, and lovely, and I became very invested in their individual well-being and happiness as well as in their relationship.

There were moments when I thought my heart would break (remember, I did say earlier that this book brought me to tears!), but also moments of joy and delight. Overall, I’m very glad I spent time with Hart and Mercy, and enjoyed the book and its characters very much. If you’re looking for a very different sort of fantasy, this is one to check out.

Book Review: Book of Night by Holly Black

Title: Book of Night
Author: Holly Black
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: May 3, 2022
Print length: 320 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

In Charlie Hall’s world, shadows can be altered, for entertainment and cosmetic preferences—but also to increase power and influence. You can alter someone’s feelings—and memories—but manipulating shadows has a cost, with the potential to take hours or days from your life. Your shadow holds all the parts of you that you want to keep hidden—a second self, standing just to your left, walking behind you into lit rooms. And sometimes, it has a life of its own.

Charlie is a low-level con artist, working as a bartender while trying to distance herself from the powerful and dangerous underground world of shadow trading. She gets by doing odd jobs for her patrons and the naive new money in her town at the edge of the Berkshires. But when a terrible figure from her past returns, Charlie’s present life is thrown into chaos, and her future seems at best, unclear—and at worst, non-existent. Determined to survive, Charlie throws herself into a maelstrom of secrets and murder, setting her against a cast of doppelgängers, mercurial billionaires, shadow thieves, and her own sister—all desperate to control the magic of the shadows.

Holly Black makes her adult debut with Book of Night, a modern dark fantasy of shadowy thieves and secret societies.

I’m going to keep this brief and to the point: Holly Black’s YA faerie-world trilogy The Folk of the Air is one of my favorite fantasy trilogies. I love the characters, the setting, the writing, the plot. So as you can imagine, I was thrilled to hear that this author would be releasing her first adult book this year.

Sadly, it didn’t quite work out for me — although some elements are very good.

In the world of Book of Night, shadow magic has become a fashion trend and a sought-after talent, but there’s a much darker side too. Yes, it’s fun to have your shadow altered to reflect your real self — but shadows have a tendency to get out of control or to become dangerous, especially when fed blood and strengthened with a person’s life force. And then there’s the whole seedy world of stolen shadows, as well as the black market in books of magic — each gloamist (people who work with shadows) wants the best secrets, and they’re fiercely competitive and protective when it comes to books that might reveal even more essential secrets of shadow manipulation.

Main character Charlie Hall is a highly skilled con-woman and thief who left behind her life of crime after a particularly nasty incident endangered not only her own life but that of her sister as well. Still, she can’t ever seem to completely walk away. There are those who know of her skills and want her on their side, and Charlie can’t avoid her old life forever.

The world of Book of Night is dark and grim. Everything is seedy and run-down, with dark bars and pawnshops and danger lurking down every alley. Shadow magic itself seems terrifying, with skilled gloamists being able to “puppet” people via shadows or even choke them to death by sending their shadows down their throats.

There’s a lot that’s fascinating about this world, but at the same time, I found myself utterly confused at times. There are some key people and positions whose roles aren’t fully explained. An entire ruling body is introduced in about a paragraph, and how they work and who they are remains murky at best. The magical system isn’t well enough explained — I found myself confused by the rules, the power structure, and the purpose of some of the magical items introduced throughout the story.

Charlie as a character is fun to ride along with. She’s absolutely a criminal and a bad-ass, but we get chapters from her past that show us how she became what she is. Criminal with a heart of gold, I guess — she’s fiercely loyal to those she loves and wants to keep them safe, but just can’t get away from her past life or find a way to stay on the straight and narrow.

I won’t go too far into further details. For some reason, this book took me a lot longer to read than I expected — maybe because of other factors in my life, but also because I never got to a place where I absolutely couldn’t put the book down. As a result, I never felt truly immersed.

I will say that the ending has some pretty unexpected and cool twists, which raised my overall impression of the book by a lot. Again, no details — you definitely don’t want spoilers! But the final chapters offer a great payoff and some really good surprises (although the pieces of the world that seemed unclear to me remain unclear all the way to the end — there are some things that I just don’t get).

The ending of the book leaves a lot of questions hanging about what’s next for Charlie, so it certainly seems like there will be a sequel. And despite my issues with the world-building, I’m intrigued enough by how the story ended that I’ll want to read that sequel, whenever it shows up!

Book Review: Spelunking Through Hell (InCryptid, #11) by Seanan McGuire

Title: Spelunking Through Hell
Series: Incryptid, #11
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: DAW
Publication date: March 1, 2022
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Now in trade paperback, the eleventh 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.

Love, noun:

1. An intense feeling of deep affection; may be romantic, filial or platonic.

Passion, noun:

1. A strong or barely controllable emotion.

2. Enthusiasm, interest, desire.

3. See also “obsession.”

It’s been fifty years since the crossroads caused the disappearance of Thomas Price, and his wife, Alice, has been trying to find him and bring him home ever since, despite the increasing probability that he’s no longer alive for her to find. Now that the crossroads have been destroyed, she’s redoubling her efforts. It’s time to bring him home, dead or alive.

Preferably alive, of course, but she’s tired, and at this point, she’s not that picky. It’s a pan-dimensional crash course in chaos, as Alice tries to find the rabbit hole she’s been missing for all these decades—the one that will take her to the man she loves.

Who are her allies? Who are her enemies? And if she manages to find him, will he even remember her at this point?

It’s a lot for one cryptozoologist to handle. 

It’s almost spring, and that means it’s time for another installment in the ongoing adventures of the Price-Healy family… yes, another InCryptid book is here! (Annoying some fans by switching to trade paperback size rather than sticking with mass market… so now my paperback editions won’t match??? But that’s beside the point when it comes to a review, so onward we go.)

The InCryptid series follows the adventures of the sprawling Price and Healy clan, a large extended family dedicated to studying and preserving the lives of cryptids — non-human beings who (usually) live peacefully among the humans, but who are hunted by the merciless and powerful Covenant simply for existing. Yes, there are also cryptids who do unpleasant things like eating humans, and in those cases, the Prices are a force to be feared… hence their very murdery reputation.

Up to now in the series, the books have focused on members of the current young adult family members — siblings Verity, Alexander, and Antimony (Annie), as well as their cousin Sarah. There are plenty of references to other relatives, and their parents and other cousins and family-by-extension pop in and play different roles as well. One of the more mythological members of the family, whom we’ve seen in action really just once so far, is grandmother Alice.

Now look at the book cover image again. That’s Alice! Does she look like a grandma to you?

Alice was a young woman in the 1950s, which is when she lost her beloved husband Thomas to a bad bargain with the crossroads. Granted, he made the bargain to save Alice’s life, so he deserves a little slack for having made it. From the time of Thomas’s disappearance, Alice has been obsessed with finding him — so much so that she’s spent over fifty years as an interdimensional traveler, tracking down every clue and random hint that could possibly lead her to her husband.

Of course, to do so, she’s had to leave her family behind, so her two children resent the hell out of her and her grandchildren know her more from the family legends than from actual relationships… but she can’t give up. Along the way, she has used whatever means necessary to preserve her youth and health so that she could keep going, which is why she looks and feels more or less like a 19-year-old.

All that is backstory. Here, in Spelunking Through Hell, Alice is the main character, and we join her on her desperate journey to find Thomas. It’s been 50 years, and her hope is starting to wear thin. At this point, she’d even accept proof of his death — she’s just about ready to stop. But then a new clue from an unexpected source gives her one more angle to try, and so she sets out one last time to travel to a dying dimension that’s supposedly inaccessible… but Alice is nothing but persistent.

And so what if she doesn’t have an exit strategy? So long as she finds Thomas — even if he is about 80 years old by now — they can figure out what comes next together.

Spelunking Through Hell is yet another fun romp with the Price clan, although we really don’t see many members of the family other than Alice. This makes the tale fresh, but also feels somewhat less engaging, since Alice has never been a main character before and there isn’t a ton to build on in terms of what we know about her or what it’s like to see the world through her eyes.

Like the rest of the Prices, Alice is always fully armed, ready for a fight, and full of quips. She’s funny, fierce, and reckless, and also has no problem pushing herself past injury and excruciating pain, so long as it’s in service of her obsession with finding Thomas.

The plot occasionally feels a little draggy — it does take quite a while to get to the target world — and while I enjoyed the book, I have to say that my lack of familiarity with Alice as an individual made this book slightly less wonderful as a reading experience as compared to earlier books in the series.

Side note on InCryptids: This is a huge expanded world, and it’s supported by many, many short stories available through the author’s website and via Patreon. That’s nice… but also frustrating. Apparently, if I’d been keeping up with all the Price short stories, I would be very invested in Alice and Thomas and would know pretty much everything about their courtship, romance, and early years together. But I haven’t! And that feels problematic for me. Yes, I can make an effort to go get caught up (and I probably will, once I figure out the order the stories should be read in) — but I do think the books alone should tell a complete story, and in this case, I felt like I was always missing key pieces of information.

That said, I did enjoy the book overall, and Seanan McGuire’s writing keeps it fun even while the blood is flowing:

And I, an asshole, had done enough woolgathering for one… day? Evening? Afternoon? There were no windows, and massive blood loss always throws off my sense of time.

I’d rather be married to a man fifty years older than I am than see him go through what I’ve willingly done to myself for his sake, what he never would have asked or expected me to do. It’s always easier to set yourself on fire than to allow someone else to burn for you.

I wanted to avoid being caught at any cost, since one solid snap of those claws could have me down a limb, or possibly down an entire torso. I like my torso. It’s where I keep my lungs.

The Haspers not currently engaged began to run in my direction, forming a nicely unified pack. I like a unified pack. I like the way is splashes when you lob a grenade into the middle of it, and I like it even better when none of its component parts knows what a grenade is, so they react like you’ve just thrown a rock or something. To be nonspecific.

Spelunking Through Hell includes the bonus novella And Sweep Up the Wood, which tells the story of a key turning point in the early years of Alice and Thomas’s relationship. It’s very good and very emotional (plus, you know, plenty of guns and explosives — after all, Alice in involved), and it’s a great way to wrap up this installment of the series.

The InCryptid series itself is going strong, and overall, I love it! I do wish this one had drawn me in a bit more, but I can’t really complain. The Price-Healy clan is amazing (and there are religious mice, who make every scene they’re in 1000% better), and I can’t wait for more of the story. The big question is — who will #12 be about?

As I’ve said in pretty much every review of this series, definitely start at the beginning with with Discount Armageddon. This series is full of great characters and terrific world-building. It’s easy to get hooked!

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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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Shelf Control #265: Slayer by Kiersten White

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Slayer
Author: Kiersten White
Published: 2019
Length: 404 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Nina and her twin sister, Artemis, are far from normal. It’s hard to be when you grow up at the Watcher’s Academy, which is a bit different from your average boarding school. Here teens are trained as guides for Slayers—girls gifted with supernatural strength to fight the forces of darkness. But while Nina’s mother is a prominent member of the Watcher’s Council, Nina has never embraced the violent Watcher lifestyle. Instead she follows her instincts to heal, carving out a place for herself as the school medic.

Until the day Nina’s life changes forever.

Thanks to Buffy, the famous (and infamous) Slayer that Nina’s father died protecting, Nina is not only the newest Chosen One—she’s the last Slayer, ever. Period.

As Nina hones her skills with her Watcher-in-training, Leo, there’s plenty to keep her occupied: a monster fighting ring, a demon who eats happiness, a shadowy figure that keeps popping up in Nina’s dreams…

But it’s not until bodies start turning up that Nina’s new powers will truly be tested—because someone she loves might be next.

One thing is clear: Being Chosen is easy. Making choices is hard.

How and when I got it:

I picked up a Kindle version of this book during a one-day price drop, sometime last year.

Why I want to read it:

BUFFY!

Yes, I’m a Buffy fan. I miss the show, and I’m probably long overdue for (another) re-watch binge. I remember seeing the buzz about Slayer when it came out in 2019, and I was impressed by how many positive reviews I read at the time.

While the show ended way back in 2003, Buffy’s story lives on! I kept up with the comic seasons that followed (although I realize that I never did read the final one). These characters have a life of their own, and I’m always open to revisiting their world. While Slayer is apparently about a new main character and a very changed version of Buffy’s world, it sounds like there’s enough of a connection to pull me in and make me happy.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!



__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Buy now at Amazon or Audible.

Book Review: Wild Sign (Alpha & Omega, #6) by Patricia Briggs

Title: Wild Sign (Alpha & Omega, #6)
Author: Patricia Briggs
Publisher: Ace
Publication date: March 16, 2021
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Mated werewolves Charles Cornick and Anna Latham must discover what could make an entire community disappear — before it’s too late — in this thrilling entry in the #1 New York Times bestselling Alpha and Omega series.

In the wilds of the Northern California mountains, all the inhabitants of a small town have gone missing. It’s as if the people picked up and left everything they owned behind. Fearing something supernatural might be going on, the FBI taps a source they’ve consulted in the past: the werewolves Charles Cornick and Anna Latham. But Charles and Anna soon find a deserted town is the least of the mysteries they face.

Death sings in the forest, and when it calls, Charles and Anna must answer. Something has awakened in the heart of the California mountains, something old and dangerous — and it has met werewolves before. 

March is such a wonderful time of year — because every March, there’s a new Patricia Briggs book! This year’s new release is book #6 in her Alpha & Omega series, while last year gave us a new Mercy Thompson book. Both series are amazing (and are connected), and I love them to pieces. So, three cheers for March and the release of Wild Sign!

In Wild Sign, we start with a moment of domestic joy for Charles and Anna, two fierce werewolves who are mated, married, and madly in love. I will never get tired of seeing them together and enjoying their undeniable chemistry.

Their sweet time together is interrupted by a knock on the door — it’s two FBI agents, unexpectedly showing up on pack territory, presenting them with a mystery that they need help with, as well as proposing an ongoing alliance between them and the werewolves.

The mystery is relevant to the pack because it occurred on land owned by the pack: In an off-the-grid settlement in the wilds of a California wilderness, a small town of people has completely disappeared without a trace. There’s no evidence that the residence have resettled elsewhere — no one has heard from any of them in months, and no sign of them can be found. Something otherworldly may be at play, and since the land is pack-owned, that makes it pack business.

Accompanied by dangerous (but funny) pack member Tag, Charles and Anna set off to investigate what happened to the people of Wild Sign, what lurks in the mountains there, and how to stop the evil forces that seem to be at play.

The adventure is immediate, as is the danger, and there were moments that really and truly set me on edge, particularly as Anna seems to be at risk and the threat to her is huge. The story behind what happened at Wild Sign is creepy, and Patricia Briggs masterfully unfolds the horror in a way that lets it build slowly until a terrifying picture emerges.

There’s a surprise twist in the epilogue that apparently has the fan community all a-buzz, but I actually thought it was a pretty cool development that will certainly have repercussions in both the Alpha & Omega and Mercy books down the line. I won’t say more about it, but it’s definitely a lot to think about!

I love Charles and Anna so much as characters, and love the rest of their pack too. Wild Sign also gives us some long-withheld backstory on key characters Bran and Leah, which I found fascinating, and I can wait to see what happens next for all of them.

The Alpha & Omega series is absolutely wonderful, and I just can’t get enough. The first book in the series is actually a novella, and it’s one of my favorite pieces of urban fantasy writing of all time. If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading these books yet, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Alpha and Omega!

For readers who are already fans of the series, of course you’ll want to read Wild Sign. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed! Another fantastic read in a fantastic series. My only complaint is having to wait another year for the next book in this world!

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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Shelf Control #248: Dreams Underfoot by Charles De Lint

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Dreams Underfoot
Author: Charles de Lint
Published: 1993
Length: 416 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Welcome to Newford…

Welcome to the music clubs, the waterfront, the alleyways where ancient myths and magic spill into the modern world. Come meet Jilly, painting wonders in the rough city streets; and Geordie, playing fiddle while he dreams of a ghost; and the Angel of Grasso Street gathering the fey and the wild and the poor and the lost. Gemmins live in abandoned cars and skells traverse the tunnels below, while mermaids swim in the grey harbor waters and fill the cold night with their song.

About the Newford series:

Welcome to Newford, the fictional North American city setting for award-winning author Charles de Lint’s popular and beloved urban fantasy series.

Human beings share the city with European and Native American mythological legends, finding common ground as they live out their daily lives or find themselves swept up in adventures beyond imagination.

“As familiarly as though he were chronicling the lives of old friends, de Lint spins yet another magical story of the intersections between reality and the faerie and spirit world in this latest addition to the Newford opus, his twin loves of storytelling and music-making shining through every page…[H]ighly recommended.” —Library Journal (starred review) on Widdershins

How and when I got it:

I bought a copy at one of our library’s big sales, probably 3 or 4 years ago.

Why I want to read it:

I’ve been hearing about the Newford books for years! In fact, I think I actually own copies of a few books from the series (all books that I’ve grabbed at various used book sales). Charles de Lint is considered a master fantasy writer, yet I’ve only read one of his books so far (The Mystery of Grace, a stand-alone novel that was excellent).

Dreams Underfoot is a collection of stories set in Newford, and while I don’t usually gravitate toward short stories, I’d want to read this book to get an introduction to the world of the series and then see if I want to continue.

Have you read any of the Newford books?

And if not — what do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!