Book Review: Blackwing by Ed McDonald


Blackwing by Ed McDonald

Ryhalt Galharrow is just trying to get by. In ages past, the Deep Kings — immortal, evil, god-like beings — marched on the land, wreaking devastation wherever they went. Then, a group of powerful wizards called The Nameless blasted the world apart and created the Misery, a twisted wasteland of renegade magic and grotesque monsters, but their actions kept the Deep Kings at bay. Now, Galharrow makes his money as a mercenary for hire tracking and killing minions of the Deep Kings. Unfortunately, Galharrow has also pledged his sword to Crowfoot, one of the Nameless. When Crowfoot delivers an urgent order to save a mysterious noblewoman, Galharrow is plunged into a far-ranging conspiracy whose roots threaten to destroy civilization itself.

This is the first book in a series by debut author Ed McDonald, and it is something to behold. McDonald tosses the reader right into the Misery on page one, and keeps up a relentless pace throughout the book. Unlike quite a few “first in series,” Blackwing has avoided the awkward “getting to know you” phase that breaks up the flow of so many books. We learn about our hero and our setting in bits and pieces; enough to make sense of the plot, but little enough to leave us wanting more. The tone of the book combines the best elements of dark fantasy, steampunk, post-apocalyptic brutality, and 1930s detective noir.

McDonald has created an interesting and flawed hero in Ryhalt Galharrow, and provides enough secondary characters to allow the series to mature and expand with future books. Likewise, the setting seems like something out of a Robert E. Howard story, all dark recesses and horrifying sorcery. McDonald does a fantastic job of building this world up without sacrificing the pace of the plot, no mean feat. In fact, the only thing I have to complain about in this book is that any romance-related dialogue is awkward. I mean, Attack of Clones, George Lucas awkward. Fortunately, there’s not too much of this, so it doesn’t really impact the quality of the story.

In all, fans of darker fantasy will probably love this book. Fans of Lovecraftian stories, or the Conan and Solomon Kane stories by Howard should also check out this series. If Blackwing is the author’s debut work, then I can’t wait to read the next in the series!

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The White Mirror by Elsa Hart

White Mirror Elsa Hart

The White Mirror by Elsa Hart

 

This is the second book in Elsa Hart’s Li Du mystery series. Disclaimer: I did not read her first book: Jade Dragon Mountain before reading this one. However, The White Mirror stands alone enough that the book is quite enjoyable by itself.

The story takes place in China in 1708. We find Li Du, former librarian of the Forbidden City, traveling with a caravan through the high mountain passes that separate China from Tibet. As the weather sets in and the caravan is beset by a snow storm, they find themselves traversing a bridge to an isolated estate, and the only shelter for miles around. On the bridge a monk sits waiting. It is only when the party draws close that they can see the monk is dead, his face painted with pagan symbols, and his hand still gripping the knife that has ripped open his belly. Over the next several days, while the caravan and other travelers are snowed in together at the remote estate, it falls to Li Du to unravel the mystery of the dead monk.

Elsa Hart writes a good, evenly paced mystery. The setting is compelling. You can almost hear the snow crunch under the characters shoes, and you can imagine the vast and almost otherworldly beauty that the mountainous borders of China must have to offer. The characters are varied in their motivations and several good suspects come to our attention throughout the book. This is also a mystery written in a way I personally find satisfying: the clues are all there. As the reader you are aware of everything Li Du is. The mystery, when solved, is solidly based on what came before, not seemingly pulled out of the ether at the last second. Additionally, Hart does a good job of disguising what is important, with no overdone advertisement of the clues.

In all, this is an enjoyable mystery in a fabulous setting. I find myself intrigued enough that I will more than likely go back and read the first novel in the series.

An advanced copy of this book was provided by the publisher, Minotaur Books, in exchange for an honest review. The White Mirror is scheduled for release on September 6th, 2016.

 

 

Book Review: A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn

A Perilous Undertaking (Veronica Speedwell, #2)

A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn

The second installment of Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell mystery series picks up soon after the first book leaves off. Tiny warning: from here on out there will probably be a few spoilers for the first book. So if you haven’t read A Curious Beginning yet, you may want to stop reading here.

We begin with Veronica and Stoker, settling in after the events of A Curious Beginning at the Belvedere, working to turn the enormous collection into a museum. The two lead characters have settled into their atypical friendship. We find the two intrepid explorers chomping at the bit over a delay in an expedition to the South Pacific when a mysterious summons arrives for Veronica.

Arriving at a social club for intellectually-inclined women, Veronica is introduced to the enigmatic Lady Sundridge. The mysterious aristocrat sets Veronica a nigh impossible task: A renowned artist, Miles Ramsforth, stands accused of murdering his mistress, and will hang for the crime in a week. Lady Sundridge is set on absolving her friend and discovering the truth behind the heinous crime.

Reluctantly taking on the case, Veronica and Stoker are plunged into the 19th century art world. With the clock ticking against them, they must navigate their way past the bohemian glamour to the darkness and debauchery beneath.

In the second book in the series, Raybourn has the luxury of moving past the origin story and is able to let the two main characters’ personalities bounce off one another. Raybourn’s strength has always been in her female protagonists: they are witty and intelligent, determined and independent, and they hold their own against their male counterparts. Veronica Speedwell is no exception. In this book, we are also introduced to Lady Wellingtonia Beauclerk, great aunt to Veronica and Stoker’s patron, and my new role model.

The mystery in A Perilous Undertaking is satisfying and deliciously debauched. In additon to the main plot, Raybourn continues to drop little tidbits about both Stoker’s and Veronica’s pasts. These morsels, sparingly dispersed through the book, add extra interest and leave me a bit sad that the next installment is so far away.

In sum, this is a great read for fans of historical mysteries. I think Raybourn has hit her stride with Veronica Speedwell: the characters have a great repartee, the pacing is spot on, and the mystery consistently interesting. I look forward to seeing where Raybourn takes this series and her characters.

An advanced ebook was provided by Berkley Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review. A Perilous Undertaking is due for release Janurary 10th, 2017.

A Fatal Grace (Inspector Armand Gamache #2)

A Fatal Grace (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #2)

 

A Fatal Grace By Louise Penny

3.5 out of 5 Stars

I received this book via a Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

Ding dong, the witch is dead! The second book in Louise Penny’s Inspector Armand Gamache series features the murder of someone so incredibly awful and unsympathetic, you find yourself rather solidly in the murderer’s camp.

Welcome back to Three Pines, where newcomer and resident bitch CC de Poitiers has just been shuffled off the mortal coil. This, of course, would be the second murder in the small Quebec hamlet in as many years,and one can only hope it doesn’t bring down the property values too much. Beyond the mystery of who killed CC (and by the time the murder is committed, the reader is likely ready to kill her themselves), is the mystery of how. You see, CC was killed in the midst of a curling match, in full view of the entire town, on the middle of a frozen lake. Oh, and she’d been electrocuted.

Despite the fact that tiny Three Pines seems poised for a murder a year for the foreseeable future, for those who read the first book in the series, Still Life, it is quite nice to get back to he tiny hamlet, and the cast of characters we were introduced to in the first book. A few get a bit more play this time than the last go-round, Clara Morrow and Ruth Zardo being the main focus. Inspector Gamache is also back, along with his crew of investigators, and we all get down into the business of solving murders. This installment also builds on a few threads introduced into the background of the first book, giving us more insight into Gamache’s past, and why he seems to have so much time to spend in the village of Three Pines.

In all, this book was a decently enjoyable cozy mystery, though I wound up liking it less than the first book in the series. The murder was interesting and different, which I always appreciate. However, the secondary characters seem to be more akin to caricatures, letting loose one liners according to type (gay B&B owner, sole black woman in town, etc). The exposition I had trouble with in the first book is still present, though much improved.

Then there’s the random religious element to the story (which, granted, takes place around Christmas). Clara (for reasons I won’t get into here) spends a good chunk of the book believing that a bag lady she met might be God. Later in the book, Gamache also shares his own encounter with “God” in a north country diner. At the end of the book, once the mystery has been wrapped up, Gamache’s God story repeats. It’s not necessarily that this is badly done, but it is definitely not my cup of tea, and not what I read mysteries for, so unfortunately that whole plot line rather turned me off the series.

I gave this book 3.5 stars, it is enjoyable, and the mystery is pretty interesting. If you are a spiritual or religious individual, you will probably like it more than I. Aside from the “finding God” storyline, it is overall a strong mystery series, though I don’t think I personally will be reading any further.

Salvation Lake

Salvation Lake (A Leo Waterman Mystery)

Salvation Lake By: GM Ford

3 out of 5 Stars

I received an advanced ebook of Salvation Lake via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Salvation Lake is a fairly typical hardboiled lone-detective novel. This is the eighth book in the series featuring private detective Leo Waterman, but the other books aren’t required reading; Ford does a decent job of filling in relevant events from previous books.

The book begins with a bar fight, and introduces us to Leo Waterman, former private eye and son of the deceased local political scumbag, Bill Waterman. Unfortunately for Leo, his old flame and King County (Seattle) medical examiner, Rebecca Duval, not only witnesses Leo’s humiliation, but comes bearing bad news: it seems two dead men have been found in a car trunk, wrapped up in one of Leo’s father’s signature jackets.

From here the story twists and turns. Naturally, the Seattle Police tell Leo to stay away from the case they’re investigating. And naturally, Leo ignores them and begins his own investigation with help from the ME and a motley group of friends and bar flies. Unfortunately, trying figure out who killed the two guys in the car, and why they were wrapped in that particular jacket, opens up a writhing, rotten can of worms.

From the initial crime, we are lead to a crooked fundamentalist preacher, the Las Vegas Mob, and violent goons among others. Small subplots and minor mysteries wander in and out, leaving the reader, like Leo, to determine what is connected to the case and what is not.

The book was decently written, with good dialogue and a steady pace. It was a good two-afternoon read. One complaint (which may be irrelevant, as I haven’t read the rest of the series) is that the characters, particularly Leo and Rebecca Duval, seem a bit two dimensional. They go about their business, but never seem to rise above the “I’m a private eye with a complicated past” and “I’m the incredibly intelligent and attractive medical examiner” outline. Maybe it’s due to coming into this series in the middle; I’d be curious to read the earlier books and see how/if the characters have changed over time.

The grand finale is thrilling, with danger and flying bullets and assorted action-hero feats. The ending itself is a bit pat, with everything wrapped up in a very, very neat bow. Especially in a series of books, I always prefer when authors leave somethings unfinished, or even imperfectly wrapped up. It adds interest and realism to the story, and even if you’re burning to tie up every last loose end, doing it serially makes it a bit easier on the reader.

All in all, this is still an enjoyable (and quick) read, worth a few afternoons on the hammock.