Review of Deadly Curiosities by Gail Z Martin (Solaris Books, June 24, 2014, mass market)
This is a new urban fantasy series set in Charleston, South Carolina. The center of the adventures is an antique shop called Trifles and Folly, which is currently owned by Cassidy Kincaide and her vampire silent partner Sorren. She has a former history graduate student/martial artist named Teag Logan who helps run the place. His boyfriend Anthony is a lawyer from an old Charleston family, who is occasionally enlisted to help find information.
They all help a group called the Alliance to keep bad magic from hurting people by either placing it somewhere safe or destroying it. There are other Alliance helpers in Charleston too, including an Episcopal priest, and several vodun practitioners. Different ones appear across the short stories in the same setting and the novel, with Sorren or Cassidy enlisting whoever is needed.
The city of Charleston is of course a character all to itself given its history and the large number of ghost and magic tales which come from there. Gail does a great job of describing the feel for the city (I’ve been there myself) and while it shares some elements with other southern ports, its architecture, the number of slaves passing through there, and all the natural disasters which have hit it give it a distinct feel.
The story has much creeping around dark, gloomy locations with scary happenings. Cassidy has touch magic so she sees images from objects. This puts her in danger when she gets near nasty objects because she can get pulled into a vision and not be able to get out without help. Teag has weaving magic and has a basket weaving mentor who owns a stall in the market. Because the story is a mystery, much of the plot can’t be discussed without spoilers, but in general terms a big nasty and his minions have taken over a building and use it as a base to snag the unaware and even some aware people who get too close. Cassidy and company have to find the big nasty and destroy it and its minions. They have various kinds of magic weapons, some made from ordinary objects, but some normal fantasy story ones also, like swords and knives. The battle scenes are all done on the individual level and are well done, as Gail’s battles usually are. The mystery is twisty enough it can’t be guessed from the initial chapters, but not so involved you lose track of clues and characters.
Although the setting is modern day there is quite a lot of Charleston history in the stories, particularly bad events like deaths and plagues, so history fans will enjoy the book. It is a well written urban fantasy with interesting characters and a charming southern setting. Urban fantasy fans will like this book and fantasy fans in general probably would as well. The story structure and the characters including their skill sets can be appreciated by all fantasy fans even those who don’t normally read ones in a modern setting, so if you like Gail’s other work, don’t be put off by the modern setting.
Review of The Blasted Lands: Seven Forges, Book 2 by James A Moore (Angry Robot, June 24, 2014)
This is the story of two empires, the Fellein Empire and the Seven Forges, and the characters that run them. The Seven Forges is an alliance of seven kings and occupies a land thought by the other empire to be desolate, filled with ash and covered with smog. The other has a monarch, an emperor or empress, and occupies a fertile land with many waterways and roads. Things aren’t as they appear in either empire.
The first book ended in a cliffhanger that had lone Fellein teenager Andover facing the Pra-Moresh, monsters from the blasted land, and the second picks up right at the point of battle. After this harrowing adventure he travels into the Seven Forges to thank one of the gods for the gift of new silver hands (his had been destroyed by City Guard from Tyrne, where the summer palace is located). He is greatly changed by his journey and becomes an adult during this book, regardless of his being still in his teens.
The aftermath of the Fellein emperor’s murder is being dealt with in Tyrne. The emperor is buried, the new empress is crowned and everyone prepares to move to the winter palace. Desh Krohan, the First Advisor, has been given word that the city is in danger from some type of disaster, so everyone is packed up and moved to Canhoon. Merros Dulver, the hero from Book One, has become the general of the armies of the Fellein, and he is preparing the empire for war against the Seven Forges. Before the war actually arrives in Tyrne, word arrives that the Seven Forges want to parlay at the pass into the Blasted Lands, and so Desh, Merros, and the empress Nachia Krous all pack up and leave the city to go to the parlay.
As these characters deal with packing and preparing for war, we get glimpses of their histories and some insight into where they want to go in the future. All the characters are complex and interesting. Both empires have multiple lands and cultures within them, so even characters from the same empire are presented as having different culture and beliefs. You also see that individuals on both sides like people from the other empire, but must go against them anyway because they can’t see a way to peace. Andover and Kallir, who was left at Seven Forges to get healed in the previous book, are both Fellein who have accepted the gods of the Seven Forges so are on the opposite side of the war from where they were born. They are our windows into the cultures and gods of the Seven Forges. As the empires go to war, it will be interesting to see things from their viewpoint.
This series is a good read with fighting scenes and some interesting magic, with hints that there could be more in further books as more of Desh’s students appear in the tale. Women characters in the story are treated realistically (about the same level of disdain for brains as today, with several characters getting tired of males talking to their breasts) and we see viewpoints of four female magic-users as well as that of the empress. One of the viewpoints from Seven Forges is the female Swech, who had formed a bond with Merros but had to follow her god’s orders to kill the emperor. She has gone undercover and is still in Fellein territory. We also see viewpoints from Merros, several of the kings from Seven Forges, plus Nolan March, and Drask of Seven Forges. The viewpoint shifts are done well and there was never any character confusion, as most of the viewpoint shifts are also shifts in location.