Three Days to Dead (Kelly Meding, Dreg City #1)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Three Days to Dead is a conventional urban fantasy monster hunting adventure with a strong female protagonist. This is the first in a series. There are some supernatural romance elements, but the majority of the story focuses on overcoming supernatural challenges rather than amorous ones, so I would definitely call this urban fantasy rather than supernatural romance. The pacing is good, the story doesn’t drag anywhere in particular, and the characters are decent. The protagonist has some strange issues that aren’t immediately addressed when you would think they would be, but this is actually an intentional story element rather than an oversight (I think). The setting is original and interesting, but sadly, the whole experience of the book is somewhat tainted to me by the fact that yet again the antagonist’s plan is tortuously complicated when there is no reason for it to be and doesn’t entirely make sense. Still, I would recommend this book, largely because I found it enjoyable to read, and despite its issues it is still superior to most urban fantasy offerings.

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The Covenant Rising (Stan Nicholls, Dreamtime #1)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
The Covenant Rising is a swords-and-sorcery dystopian adventure novel. This is the first in a series, and while it isn’t constantly apparent, there is clearly a lot of groundwork being laid throughout the course of the book. The characters are enjoyable. I’m not sure if they are the most unique, but they are entertaining enough and well written. The setting is fairly standard swords-and-sorcery with an overlay of political dystopia. It’s interesting to see things that are familiar fantasy conventions being employed by a magical police state. There are a few too many prospective characters for my tastes, and the author has an annoying habit of cramming all the descriptions of places into the first two paragraphs every time the perspective changes, but overall there isn’t too much to complain about. This book really excels in the action sequences. They are really well described and feel very dynamic. I would recommend this book if you like lots of action and fighting, but maybe not so much if you just like to luxuriate in the fantastical and the strange, as much of what is in the book will be familiar to fantasy fans even though it is repurposed here.

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Blood Engines (TA Pratt, Marla Mason #1)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Blood Engines is an edgy, violent urban fantasy. This is apparently the first in a series, which surprised me. The author throws you right into the action with very little explanation of who the characters are and why they are doing what they are doing and just lets the story unfold from there. It’s nice for an author to actually give the audience some credit and not explain every little detail all the time. The only attempts I spotted to lay groundwork for further books in the series are references to people who never actually appear in the book, but this really made sense and worked well in context. You very often get the impression that people just sort of make urban fantasy up as they go along, and this book was a nice departure from that. You feel like you are immediately immersed in a fully thought out world with believable characters and well defined rules. I would definitely recommend Blood Engines to anyone looking for a darker take on the urban fantasy genre.

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Spiral Hunt (Margaret Roland, Evie Scelan #1)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Spiral Hunt is a contemporary magical urban fantasy adventure story. The setting borrows heavily from mythological sources and interprets their use in present day. Everything magical is, as standard, hidden from mundane eyes, and only a few magical practitioners know the true nature of the world. This is the first in a series of novels, but any groundwork the author lays here for future novels in the series doesn’t adversely affect the course of this book. The characters were fairly complex and interesting, and although I’m not fond of the technique of cribbing from ancient mythology to flesh out your setting, the author does a decent enough job of it that I wasn’t overly offended. The story progresses smoothly, and although the author has a tendency to succumb for the inexplicable urban fantasy fascination of turning their fantasy novel temporarily into sightseeing tours of their respective locations (this time it’s Boston), the pacing is generally brisk and exciting. I would recommend this as a good, although not exemplary, urban fantasy novel.

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A Fate Worse Than Dragons (John Moore)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
A Fate Worse Than Dragons is a fun, lighthearted swords-and-sorcery style fantasy adventure novel. The characters aren’t particularly deep, but they don’t get in the way of the playful narrative. Their motives are so straightforward it is difficult not to root for them even though you know everything is going to turn out in the end. The setting is pretty much generic swords-and-sorcery, with knights, princesses, and dragons. The story progresses quickly and, while there aren’t a ton of surprises, I was favorably impressed with the inventiveness and acumen in handling a standard plot well. I would definitely recommend this book because even though this isn’t a particularly deep or thought provoking fantasy, if you want a fun adventure with a few laughs you will be well served here.

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Mortal Coils (Eric Nylund)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Mortal Coils is a contemporary mythologically inspired coming of age fantasy novel with a definite young adultish slant. I wasn’t too put off by the lack of mature content, and the young adult elements have more to do with the coming of age story and the protagonist’s relationships and perspective rather than an overly simplified story or dumbed down vocabulary. Honestly, I find the inclusion of traditional mythological elements into contemporary fantasy books a tiresome trend that I wish would disappear given that, in my opinion, any somewhat talented author should be able to come up with more interesting setting material than something produced by, at best, iron age primitives, but the mythological elements are handled adroitly enough here that they didn’t unduly detract from my enjoyment of the book. The pacing is decent and keeps you entertained, although the author could definitely have eliminated substantial largely superfluous sections. This material isn’t boring ,and it fits with the overall setting of the book, but it doesn’t always contribute substantially to the overall narrative. The setting is where the book really shines; it’s a weird, dangerous, magical place that actually feels like it would work. I enjoyed reading this book, so I would recommend it, especially for people who really like re-imaginings of traditional mythological figures, coming of age stories, or the idea of a strange, threatening magical reality overlaid upon our mundane lives.

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Black Blade Blues (JA Pitts, Sarah Beauhall #1)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Black Blade Blues is a fairly standard urban fantasy “normal person discovers the world of the supernatural” origin story with the twist that the protagonist is a lesbian. I wouldn’t normally mention something like sexual orientation, but the book places a significant degree of emphasis on it, so I thought it was best to mention it as it is a core component of the story. As urban fantasy, the book is all right, but not stellar. This is apparently the first in a series, but I’m not sure I would be inclined to pick up the subsequent volumes. For the most part the book moves well, and the protagonist’s profession as a blacksmith/prop manager is kind of interesting and fun. There are some issues with the way the action is written, and the climax and conclusion drag on quite a bit longer than they really should. There is some hackneyed magical prophesy/chosen one business, but overall the story feels fairly original and interesting. I would overall recommend the book as decent urban fantasy.

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Grunts (Mary Gentle)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Grunts is a strange mix of traditional swords-and-sorcery fantasy with modern military marine corps ideology. The plot is a bit chaotic, as it follows a group of standard fantasy orcs who stumble upon modern military equipment cursed to transform whoever uses it into US marines. I enjoyed the imagination and unique blend of contrasting styles, but the story wasn’t especially satisfying or engaging. The book relies on a constant stream of both absurd and dry humor, which is something of an acquired taste. I found it quite funny, but I recognize that others probably would not. There is quite a bit of over the top violence as well, which may unsettle many readers. I’m not exactly sure if there is a more engaging way to bring these two very different concepts together, but as a reader I always felt somewhat removed from the story, like an audience member rather than a participant. I would still recommend this book, despite its flaws, to those not averse to gratuitous violence, due to it being quite readable and very imaginative.

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Cinder (Marissa Meyer, The Lunar Chronicles #1)

4.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
As the title suggests, this is a modern retelling of the classic fairytale Cinderella. Luckily, the story is retold in an exciting, feminist-friendly update to the sexist base of the traditional Cinderella. Cinder takes place in a dystopian future where cyborgs, androids, and hovercraft are part of everyday life and a war is on the horizon with the seemingly magical beings who live on the moon (the Lunars). The character Cinder is a fiesty adopted cyborg who is trying to make enough money as a mechanic to leave her oppressive homelife in Little Beijing. All the characters (including a prince, of course) are written so well you feel as if you have actually met them in real life. Cinder is a strong female character who turns the fairy tale on its head and refuses to be rescued. This is a great book for people of all ages – my sixty-one year old dad adores this series and can’t wait for the next book in the series. It’s definitely a good read for just about anyone!

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Mainspring (Jay Lake, Clockwork Earth #1)

1 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Mainspring is an adventure with an intriguing and innovative style, melding a magical steampunk clockwork world with traditional Judeo-Christian spiritual elements. Unfortunately, this initially promising premise is ruined by jarring and disturbing sexual elements and a plot that reads more like a travelogue than a coherent interlinked story. With the exception of the protagonist, there aren’t any strong characters, and with the exception of a distinct beginning and end, the events in the story don’t really develop in any logical progression other than the fact that things generally get weirder the further into the book you go. I can’t recommend this book despite a somewhat promising setting because the execution was too poor and the elements that the author deliberately included were too disturbing.

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