Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Journey in Ancient Scotland from the Magical Pen of Juliet Marillier

Juliet Marillier
Knopf Books for Young Readers
Sept. 11, 2012

Juliet Marillier has long been a favorite author. I am a fan of her Sevenwaters books and especially the Bridei Chronicles. I also enjoyed her previous Young Adult novels, Wildwood Dancing and Cybele’s Secret. No other author can transport me as fully into a believable fantasy world and Shadowfell does not disappoint.

Set in Alban (ancient Scotland), Neryn and her father have been on the run for three years from the King’s Enforcers. King Keldec has established a reign of terror, focusing on all magic users in the kingdom. He sends out bands of mounted warriors each fall to find all magic users, even healers, to either kill them or bend them to his will. Friends and neighbors have turned on each other in fear of the Enforcers and no one is safe. Neryn lost her grandmother and older brother in an Enforcer raid and now she is being pursued. Her father has succumbed to grief and a fondness for drink so 16 year old Neryn has become the responsible adult. They are down to the last few coins but her father insists on joining a game of chance. Drinking and losing heavily, he wagers Neryn herself in the game. A cloaked and hooded man wagers and wins her. Neryn is horrified and terrified as he drags her away, only to witness an Enforcer raid on the gambling boat. This begins an epic journey to Shadowfell, hidden base of rebel forces.

Neryn is understandably traumatized and suspicious, especially of Flint, the hooded man. Though only a few years older than herself, he is obviously a seasoned warrior. Flint is unfailingly courteous and kind but refuses to explain exactly who he is and why he is helping her. Neryn’s special ability is that of seeing and speaking with the “Good Folk”, fae woodland beings who are also persecuted by the king. The “Good Folk” think that Neryn has other abilities, abilities that will bring about the overthrow of King. She must pass seven tests on the journey in order to prove herself.

Ms. Marillier weaves magic and folklore into all her books and this is no sanitized, Disney-like tale. Neryn has many tests but the greatest is learning to trust again.  Shadowfell is highly recommended for teens and adults alike. I look forward to the second book of the Shadowfell Trilogy.

Rating- 4 Stars

Monday, July 9, 2012

The All Souls Trilogy Continues

SHADOW OF NIGHT (Book 2 Of The All Souls Trilogy)
Deborah Harkness
Penguin Group
July 10, 2012

Deborah Harkness burst on to the literary scene in 2011 with the first book in the All Souls Trilogy, A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES. Ms Harkness is a professor of history at the University of Southern California and combined her historical knowledge with science in a very different sort of paranormal story. Matthew Claremont is a centuries old vampire geneticist obsessed with discovering the origins of all the supernatural species; vampires, witches and daemons. Diana Bishop is the last of a powerful American line of witches and a scholar studying the history of alchemy at Oxford. Diana's witch powers have never fully manifested and she has spent a lifetime denying her heritage. When Diana calls for a manuscript at the Bodleian Library, Ashmole 782, she sets off a series of events that attract both Matthew and all the other "creatures" in Oxford. The manuscript has been supposedly lost for years but it not only can be called by Diana, it allows her to open it. Her powers begin to manifest and she has no idea how to control them. She slowly comes to trust Matthew to protect her and the two fall in love, thereby violating the greatest taboo in the supernatural world.  The governing body of the creatures, The Congregation, is threatening both Matthew and Diana. Not only does it want to punish them, it wants access to the manuscript and Diana's powers.

SHADOW OF NIGHT picks up right where A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES ends. Diana and Matthew, having discovered that one of Diana's powers is the ability to "time-spin", travel back to England in 1590. Their idea is to  evade The Congregation and to find a witch who can help her find out what her powers are and how to control them, and to find Ashmole 782 in the Elizabethan era. Diana finds that despite her historical knowledge, functioning in the 16th century in an everyday manner is difficult for a woman and she is not able to hide her witch nature. Matthew has a wide acquaintance with such Elizabethan figures as Sir Walter Raleigh, Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, Henry Percy, and Thomas Harriot and in fact is a spy for the court of Queen Elizabeth. The two travel to France to see Phillippe, Matthew's vampire father and to the court of Rudolph II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia in Prague. They make many enemies and friends in their travels before returning to modern day France and Diana discovers that she is a very rare "weaver of spells". The relationship between the two deepens as Matthew finally reveals his many secrets.

I was able to read SHADOW OF NIGHT digitally and admit a lot of "googling" back and forth of the historical figures involved. I actually found this added to my enjoyment and learned more about those I only knew superficially. Many of them had an interest in both the occult and science so it was not a great leap to see them interacting with Matthew and Diana. The characters were well rounded and vivid. I particularly enjoyed Philippe, and Kit Marlowe was a villain one truly loves to hate, obnoxious to the end. I grew to be more attached to Matthew and Diana than I was in A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES. The revelation of Matthew's secrets and regrets made him more understandable and I admired Diana's commitment to him despite all the difficulties. The visual descriptions of the magics and places are often breathtaking, almost cinematic.

SHADOW OF NIGHT is a erudite fantasy for grown-ups. I highly recommend it to both fantasy fans and fans of historical fiction and look forward to the final book in the trilogy. Why only 4 1/2 stars? I found the time travel element somewhat confusing and still am not as emotionally connected to Matthew and Diana as I would like to be. I suspect that is just a matter of personal taste.

RATING- 4 1/2 stars

Monday, July 2, 2012

Who do you call when things get REALLY weird?

Ben Aaronovitch
Del Rey
July 31, 2012

After Midnight Riot and Moon over Soho, Whispers Under Ground is another romp through supernatural London with Peter Grant, Police Constable, Apprentice Wizard and all-around smartass. After discovering that he has magical abilities and can see and talk with ghosts at the scene of a horrific murder in Midnight Riot, Peter has been assigned to Scotland Yard’s Specialist Assessment Unit under the tutelage of Inspector Thomas Nightingale. The SAU is called in when things get really weird.

Inspector Nightingale is one of the last practicing wizards in the UK. Most of the other wizards either were killed or gave up magic during WWII. Born at the beginning of the twentieth century, Nightingale has started aging backward and looks about 40. He has his hands full with Peter, a mixed race 20-something who is not only somewhat hyperactive, but has absolutely no reverence for anything.  One thing Nightingale and Peter know for sure is that there is now another wizard operating in England, the Faceless Man. The Faceless Man has gone over to the dark side and must be stopped.

The investigation begins when Peter is called to the scene of the death of American student, James Gallagher. James Gallagher is found in the Baker Street Underground Station and there are traces of vestigia or magical activity. Not only is he American, but he is the son of an American Senator. The FBI insists on sending over an agent to aid in the investigation, Special Agent Kimberley Reynolds. Agent Reynolds doesn’t like the suggestion of magic- not at all.  As Nightingale is occupied with following up leads on the Faceless Man, the investigation largely falls to Peter and his partner, WPC Lesley May. It leads them on a chase through the Underground Railways and London Sewers.

One of the greatest joys of the Peter Grant series is Peter’s encyclopedic knowledge of London architecture and byways. The city of London almost becomes a character in each book. Most of the characters we have met before are back, Inspectors Stephanopoulos and Seawoll, Dr. Walid and especially Lesley May. Lesley is now back working with Peter and Nightingale after her horrific injuries suffered in Midnight Riot. Of course one must not forget Nightingale’s scary housekeeper, Molly. Peter's Mum and Dad also make a brief appearance.

Whispers Under Ground is highly recommended for urban fantasy fans, especially those who like a bit of snark.

Rating- 4 Stars