The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Some Recent Good Urban Fantasy Reads: The Cormorant, Black Arts and Ghost Train to New OrleansPosted: 15 March, 2014
The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig (Angry Robot, January 2014)
This urban fantasy/hard-boiled thriller stars Miriam Black, a woman with the paranormal talent of precisely predicting the date, time, and circumstances of anyone’s death. She does some illegal things to survive, usually conning or stealing from the unfortunate who wants to know about his or her demise.
Miriam and the people she encounters all get gleefully skewered, folded, spindled, stapled, and mutilated by Wendig; there is kidnapping, torture, and a paranormally-sensitive cormorant (yes, the bird.) in this story, as well as an appearance by Miriam’s mother, who is supposedly one of the reasons that Miriam left home. Miriam has one ally who genuinely likes her and helps her out, and since he manages to survive the story we may see him and his run-down Florida hotel again.
Miriam Black is a bad-girl heroine who has some serious issues because of all the morbid and gruesome imagery she has seen in her head. Her primary goal is survival, so she tends to follow the money, which always seems quite elusive. And when the con is on the other foot, Miriam does not react well at all, because people she likes are getting hurt, not just her.
Wendig has set his tale in a world of thrift-store shopping, seedy motels, fast food, public or stolen transportation, petty theft, and repeatedly experiencing messy and painful death; this is a far cry from the usual middle-class apartment, nice car, nice wardrobe and steady paychecks usually seen in urban fantasy. It’s action-packed, has a heroine who is best described as bat-shit crazy, and an engaging, twisty plot, but it isn’t for the faint of heart: Wendig pulls no punches, and some of the vile imagery he describes may have you reaching for the brain bleach more than once.
The Cormorant is Wendig’s third Miriam Black novel, and Your Humble Reviewers are sure that he will be gleefully torturing his protagonist in another volume. Wendig’s urban fantasy is much like his blog posts: well-written, profane, irreverent and hilarious, and never fails to keep you coming back for more.
Black Arts by Faith Hunter (Roc, January 2014)
Molly has disappeared and a very angry Evan wants her back. Jane tries to find Molly but encounters problems along the way of both witch and vampiric origin. Vampires who also witches raise the insanity to a whole new level, and prove to be extremely difficult foes for even Jane Yellowrock’s skills and abilities.
Along the way Jane also finds her past, and it is not pretty, but she and her spirit guide are both glad that she no longer has to lie.
Jane’s gear takes a real beating in this book, so it will be interesting to see what new stuff she has in her next adventure.
Her relationship with her colleagues continues to grow, but she is still having man trouble from Rick and Bruiser. Her relationship with her boss, Leo, also changes in this story, and how that is resolved could have significant implications for later books. Jane’s landlady situation is also addressed, this time on a more permanent basis.
Jane also gets some new clothes and boots for some events at Leo’s, all very practical for her line of work but beautiful all the same.
Molly’s kids put in several appearances, and the little witch again surprises everyone with what she can do. Your Humble Reviewers foresee some big problems in her future, because she is so powerful.
This adventure offers plenty of firefights, a hand-to-hand battle between Leo and Jane, some interesting vampire action, and a fight between Leo and Bruiser. As usual, there are some crazed vampires who need killing too, with a bit of magic added to an already heady mix.
Ghost train to New Orleans by Mur Lafferty (trade paperback, March 4, 2014, Orbit)
Zoë and her writing team take a road trip: going all the way from New York to New Orleans on a ghost train! Since the train is a ghost, this means that ghosts appear solid while on the train. This is great if you want to see or talk to a ghost, but not so good if the ghosts are bad guys.
There is a special second-class car for humans, and no humans are allowed in the first-class car, much to the delight of some of Zoë’s staff. This means the car is full of zoëtists (human magicians who make golems and bring them to life) who just assume that Zoë is one also, and she does not disabuse them of this notion. There is a bit of excitement on the train and Zoë gets injured, so she arrives in New Orleans needing not only a shower but some serious sleep to recover from the healing done by her staff.
In addition to the touristy stuff she does to review for the book (restaurants, a really bad vampire tour and some sights), she gets invited to a Mardi Gras ball. Arthur has come on the trip because he needs to find an herbalist who lives in the swamp. He was staying in a humans-only hotel and doing his own research, trying to distance himself from Zoë, but he shows up at the ball, not realizing she is there. A romantic disaster scene ensues, followed by everyone running off to possibly get themselves killed in the swamp. You will get quite a laugh at what Zoë has to wear on her trip to the swamp!
Zoë learns quite a bit more about citytalkers during this book, we get more information on how gods eat and we see Bertie the dragon in his dragon form for the first time. The relationship between the different writers and Zoë, their editor/boss, progresses further in this volume. Her staffers start to get used to her being around and she figures out what pushes their buttons.
Overall, this is a highly entertaining urban fantasy with a very interesting setting which hopefully will get to continue at other locales. Zoë is a great heroine because she so doesn’t want to be, but she does what she needs to do for her writers and friends.