Wednesday, March 25, 2015

After very dark days, Harry Dresden is back

SKIN GAME (The Dresden Files #15)
Jim Butcher
Penguin Audio, Narr. James Marsters
May 2014

I don't really know why the audio version of Skin Game sat on my iPod for nearly a year before I got around to listening. Maybe it was because I listened to the first thirty minutes or so and couldn't get into it or more likely I found the dark turn that the three previous books had taken uncomfortable. It just doesn't get darker than the events of Changes, Ghost Story and Cold Days. I hated that Harry was forced by events and Mab, the Winter Queen of Faerie, to become the Winter Knight. Being the Winter Knight comes with both character changes and a very short life expectancy; neither of which I wanted to see for Harry. Most of my fears were allayed by Skin Game, and in the non stop style that has made The Dresden Files the best out there in Urban Fantasy.

Skin Game opens with Harry still on Demonreach, an island on Lake Michigan that serves as a prison for supernatural criminals and maniacs; some so ancient they have no names. Harry is the Warden of Demonreach but that is the least of his problems. He also has a psychic parasite that threatens to kill him and everyone he loves. Mab appears on the island with a job for Harry he can't refuse. The parasite will kill him "Alien" style in three days time but Mab will remove it if the job is successful. Too bad it involves a heist, no less than the Holy Grail, which is located in the Vault of Hades (yes, that Hades). The heist is masterminded by Nicodemus, Knight of the Blackened Denarius, millenniums old and entirely evil. Nicodemus and Harry have tangled before and Harry would much rather kill him than work with him.

The action is breathtaking as Harry struggles to fulfill Mab's word to Nicodemus while simultaneously thwarting the plot. Most of the usual gang are present; Murphy, Butters and Michael Carpenter play a large part. To my mind Waldo Butters and Michael Carpenter just about steal the book this time as they provide the most emotionally affecting moments. There are many changes in Skin Game but on the whole it ends on a much more positive note. I am now eagerly looking forward to the next Harry Dresden and to Butcher's upcoming Steampunk series.

RATING- 5 Stars for book and narration.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Return of Yelena and Valek

SHADOW STUDY (Soulfinder)
Maria V. Snyder
Harlequin MIRA
February 24, 2015

It's been about seven years since the last of the Study series featuring Yelena, magician and soulfinder, and Valek, second in command to the Commander of the land of Ixia. Valek is also an accomplished assassin and spy feared by all. The two are "heartmates" after a very bumpy start when Valek forced Yelena to become poison taster to the Commander under threat of execution. Ms. Snyder has written two other series in the interim (as well as a young adult series) but none have resonated with me as much as the Study series and I think that is true for many readers.

Shadow Study begins with an assassination attempt on Yelena as she is riding to meet Valek at their cottage.The two are kept apart for long periods of time by their respective duties, Valek to the Commander and Yelena as liaison between Ixia and her home of Sitia. Struck by a poisoned arrow, Yelena uses her healing abilities and thinks all is well when Valek is called back to duty early. Or at least as well as she can be after an assassination attempt! Over the years both she and Valek have collected enough enemies that they have no idea as to which one might be the culprit. The poisoned arrow has long lasting effects however and makes Yelena more vulnerable than she has ever been.

Told in the alternating voices of Yelena, Valek and their loyal subordinate, Janco, I particularly enjoyed hearing in the voice of Valek just how he became an assassin and the most loyal supporter of the Commander. Valek's story was lightly touched on in the earlier books but I could never understand how he remained so loyal to the Commander. It always seemed to me that the Commander was little more than a totalitarian thug, little better than the corrupt monarchy he overthrew. My opinion hasn't changed but I do understand Valek's motivations to a degree. Janco's voice and his attempts to cope with a new female character who has been partnered with him provide some welcome humor.

I would not recommend reading Shadow Study as an introduction to the world that Valek and Yelena inhabit. Even though Ms. Snyder weaves in enough information to refresh the minds of those who read the first three books it would be better to start with Poison Study, Magic Study and Fire Study. This return to much loved characters made Shadow Study very satisfying and I look forward to more books in this new series.

Thanks to Harlequin MIRA and netgalley for an advance digital copy.

RATING- 4 Stars