Gwen Maule is Edinburgh’s hero. She’s got a new job for a boss she actually likes, and by night as Shrike she singlehandedly keeps her city’s crime rate at an all time low. But now Rosamund Granger has escaped custody and is killing people across Scotland. Desperately trying to get ahead of the murders, Gwen discovers that Britannia are not as gone as she hoped — and their newest plan will soak the earth in blood.
This is a mini-review, since I only reviewed The Masked Songbird, the first book in this series, less than a week ago. If you’re looking for a new urban fantasy/superhero series, I can’t recommend this one highly enough — but you should definitely start there.
Here are additional things you can look forward to in Rampant, book two in the series:
- It’s less of an origin story and gets more into the day-to-day of superhero life. Gwen’s superpowers continue to develop in delightful ways.
- We get to see how Gwen, Taog and Magda cope with PTSD in a way that comes across as realistic without crippling any of them to the point where they hide in cupboards (hi, Katniss).
- We don’t get to see any more of Angus, which I’m sure is a relief for everyone.
- We learn much more about Britannia, the organisation of villains (aka crazy cult) that were the baddies in the first book. They are still the baddies in this one.
- And, hoo boy, are they bad. The death toll is pretty high, you guys. And poor Gwen feels every death, which means we do too.
The only thing holding me back from giving this one five stars is that I found the end a little bit … anticlimactic? A lot of stuff happens, but Gwen is a little bit sidelined in the action, which was unsatisfying because I wanted her to lay out more smackdown than she got to. (It’s hard to be more specific than that without spoilers.)
Still, I really liked this book; I don’t know if Mears is planning on writing more books in this series, but I really hope she does!
Edinburgh accountant Gwenllian Maule is surviving. She’s got a boyfriend, a rescued pet bird and a flatmate to share rent. Gwen’s biggest challenges: stretching her last twenty quid until payday and not antagonising her terrifying boss.
Then Gwen mistakenly drinks a mysterious beverage that gives her heightened senses, accelerated healing powers and astonishing strength. All of which come in handy the night she rescues her activist neighbour from a beat-down by political thugs.
Now Gwen must figure out what else the serum has done to her body, who else is interested and how her boss is involved. Finally—and most mysteriously—she must uncover how this whole debacle is connected to the looming referendum on Scottish independence.
Superpowers don’t make a superhero. Real strength isn’t something you’re born with — it’s something you build.
Emmie Mears is my favourite new urban fantasy discovery for 2016. I devoured her Ayala Storme series and then went looking for more. The Masked Songbird was her debut, but didn’t suffer for it — it has all the hallmarks of her writing, in that it’s action-packed and full of heart.
Despite the blurb, Gwen starts off in a pretty dark place. Yes, she has a boyfriend — but Angus is a manipulative prick one step away from being abusive. Yes, she has a job — but her terrifying boss is clearly a corporate psychopath (and, it turns out, a regular psychopath too) who has it out for her. Gwen’s life is very grey and grim.
That all changes when, in typical superhero-origin style, Gwen ingests an experimental serum hidden in a bottle of soft drink. But not in a “wow, I have powers; I rock now” way. More in a “what the hell is happening” way. She pays a pretty steep price for her powers (I won’t go into details, because spoilers), and gets her ass handed to her at least once because she gets in over her head. Strength does not automatically equal skill, after all.
And, even with her superpowers, it takes Gwen a while to realise she deserves better than what she has, especially with regards to Angus. She suffers from that sadly fairly common delusion that being with a scumbag is better than being single. (Hint: it’s not!) I’m pleased to say that she grows throughout the story and comes to realise she doesn’t need him.
I haven’t read very many true superhero books, though a lot of urban fantasy has the trappings of a superhero story. The Masked Songbird is pure superhero, down to the spandex costume and the crime-fighting. I loved it so much!
I loved watching Gwen’s friendship with her flatmate Magda turn from “friendly acquaintances” into “BFFs”. And Taog (pronounced “took”, apparently — Welsh names do my head in), the kindly and hot next door neighbour, is patient and committed to his beliefs. There is definite tension there, but Gwen resists it, not wanting to cheat on Angus. Hopefully their relationship will develop further in the sequel.
The overarching events that provide the backdrop and the external story relate to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 (when The Masked Songbird was originally released). The book is set in the lead-up to the vote, and explores the idea of an extremist pro-UK group, Britannia, trying to suppress the “leave” campaign while scaring the public into voting to stay. I did struggle with how truly evil the Britannia members were at times … but I suppose every superhero needs an evil super-villain. (And there’s no doubt that people have gotten violent over this sort of thing in the past … though not usually without religion being a factor too.)
Oh, I should add: the other thing I really enjoyed on a personal level was the evocative descriptions of Edinburgh. I went there on holiday in 2012 and it was so easy for me to picture the places I’d visited.
I’ve already bought the sequel and can’t wait to get stuck into it. I highly recommend this one.
Earth teeters on the edge of a razor sharp blade.
With the Summit on barely-unified tenterhooks and hellkin bubbling into Earth with no sun to stop them, Ayala Storme has her hard-won family, an uncertain new love, and a team of allies — half of whom have betrayed her in the past.
When the cities of North America begin to fall to demon hordes, Ayala has to fight her way back into Nashville in a desperate hope to save her city. With the witches trying to find the original source of the imbalance that allows hellkin a tie to Earth and the Mediators ready to draw their swords every time they see a shade, time is ticking away.
The witches are working as fast as they can, but what they find may shake the foundations of everything Ayala has ever known — and the answers needed to salvage what’s left of Earth may only lie beyond Earth itself, in the sixth hell.
The battles are over. It’s time for the war.
Eye of the Storm is the fourth and last book in the Ayala Storme series, which is now one of my favourite urban fantasy/alternate Earth series out there. You can find my reviews of the first three books here, but if you need further convincing, I’ll give you some reasons why you should read the series. (Note: You really do need to read the series — don’t jump in at book four and expect to be able to keep track of all the characters!)
Some minor spoilers for earlier books follow.
Eye of the Storm is, as the blurb makes clear, about the arrival of the demon-induced apocalypse. The beginning felt a little awkward to me, in that I didn’t quite follow the reasons for Ayala and her crew leaving Nashville to go back to their cabin in the woods. (That might have just been because I stayed up past my bedtime several nights in a row and missed some crucial piece of detail.) However, once the action gets going, it really gets going.
I enjoy apocalypse fiction, and Eye of the Storm definitely delivered. There is a lot of emphasis on getting back into the city, on bunkering down and surviving, on attempts to work together even though the Summit is divided on how to deal with Ayala’s allies, the shades.
The witches, led by Gryfflet Ashberry, are trying to work out a spell to help them figure out what it is that allows the demons to create portals to Earth. Ayala isn’t big on the research — like I said in a previous review, she’s more like Buffy than Willow (except that both Ayala and Willow are bisexual, of course). Still, she’s involved enough that we get a sense for how his research is progressing — and once it gets to a certain point, she has to take finding answers into her own hands. By that point I’d already guessed what the big reveal/information would be, but I found what she got up to interesting reading nonetheless!
One big point of difference between this and most end-of-the-world stories is that, although we get a lot of monster-splatting action along the way, the book doesn’t end in a big smack-down fight but with more of a “witches’ ritual and epic speech” vibe. I was actually glad of the difference; it wasn’t that the big fight didn’t happen, just that we only got to see parts of it. And since there wasn’t some giant uber-bad to fight — a dragon to slay or whatever — if we’d seen more of it, it would’ve felt a little … samey?
This entire series is fast paced and full of action, sass, tender romance (though barely any sex), strong friendships and splattery fights. There are some swears if that sort of thing bothers you. If it doesn’t, read Ayala Storme. You won’t regret it.
Stripped of her Silver Scale, made a pariah by the Summit, and with a price tag the size of Kentucky on her head, Ayala is on her own. Gregor Gaskin is still missing, and when Ayala discovers he’s far outside the Mediator territory line, she will unravel more about the Summit than she ever thought possible. Finding Gregor will take her far from home, but catching him might hit her right where she lives — and Gregor’s plans may just release hell on earth before she can stop him.
Taken by Storm is the third book in the Ayala Storm series. It doesn’t stand alone, so if you like fast-paced urban fantasy set in an alternate-world USA, I recommend you start with the first book and go from there.
It’s hard to review books this far into a series without spoilers, so please forgive the rather vague review.
Book three continues to deliver on the promises the first two books made: a sassy leading lady who is struggling more and more with who she is and how she fits into her world; an awesome best friend; a hint of romance (but no “love at first sight”); and more fight scenes than you can spray a flamethrower named Lucy at. The story is so fast-paced that it leaves you breathless. Even when you think Ayala might get a bit of downtime, things inevitably go wrong. Poor girl.
Ayala becomes less of a loner, which is great to see (especially after she got schooled in the previous book for complaining she had no friends), and we also discover that she’s bisexual, though it’s not presented as a big deal, just accepted as part of who she is. I really liked that element.
Plot-wise, we get to discover explanations for a few Mediator secrets and about the world more broadly, and there is closure on some story arcs while others — primarily what the demons are up to, which is the primary meta-plot for the series — are elaborated on but not resolved.
As with the previous book, there isn’t any sex. There is situationally appropriate swearing. And I’ve preordered the next (and I believe last?) book in the series, which comes out later this month.
Waiting is hard, you guys.
In case you missed it, this week over at Aussie Owned and Read, I blogged about five new releases that are coming out to keep you warm this winter!
After months of training a budding army of human/demon hybrids, Ayala and Carrick have worked out most of their differences.
Who gets to use the bathroom first in the morning. Who’ll feed the bunny before they go out to make mayhem. Who gets to keep the jeeling claw they found in Forest Hills. You know, the important stuff.
But when Gregor sends them out with their battalion of shades and the mission quickly lands on the wrong side of Ayala’s “don’t kill norms” moral line, she quickly discovers that maybe morality wasn’t the motivator behind Gregor’s pet project — or at least not when money’s involved.
And when a trio of shades starts murdering the populace in Nashville again and targeting places and people significant to Ayala, her desire to help her own comrade shades stay on the good side of the Mediators will place her at their mercy again.
With the Summit fracturing and demons closing in on the city, saving the shades and herself may cost Ayala everything.
This is the sequel to Storm in a Teacup, one of my new favourite urban fantasy series. (You can see my review of the first book here.) It’s fun, past-paced and clever, and Emmie Mears’s voice again doesn’t disappoint. The main character, Ayala, could sass for her country!
Sadly for her, she’s instead stuck killing demons, and trying to avoid getting sucked into the sort of intrigue that inevitably pops up when you have a large group of people working together — even if those people are Mediators, people destined from birth to be unpaid monster-hunters. And political intrigue isn’t the only thing she could be sucked into: the demon-infested swamp that is encroaching on Nashville (where the books are set) and the maws of the demons themselves are also ongoing concerns.
Any Port in a Storm doesn’t stand alone, so if you haven’t read the first book, you’ll be very lost with this one. (Go read the first book. We’ll wait.) It continues some of the plot threads from the first book, introduces some new ones, and continues the meta-plot that is the looming threat of the demons’ overall plan — whatever that turns out to be. There is a conclusion of a sort, but as with the first book some threads are left untied to continue in the next one. (Think of it like a season of Buffy: the monster of the week is more or less dealt with, but the season’s Big Bad soldiers on.)
Any Port in a Storm contains some swearing, but there’s no sex or even kissing. The relationships revolve around friendships and family, which I found a refreshing change; urban fantasy, unlike paranormal romance, isn’t all about the love interest. And although I didn’t mind Mason in the first book, I didn’t ship him and Ayala, so him being gone didn’t bother me so much.
I enjoyed this book enough that I one-clicked the third book in the series, Taken by Storm, and can’t wait to get my teeth stuck into it. If you loved Buffy, you should definitely check out Ayala!
Mediator Ayala Storme handles PR by day and kills demons by night. She avoids Mediator luncheons and a fellow Mediator who’s been trying to get in her pants for years. She does her job. She keeps her sword clean and her body count high. But when a rash of disappearances leads her to discover that Nashville’s hellkin are spawning a new race of monster in human hosts, Ayala will be the first line of defense against these day-walking killers.
That is, until one of the creatures saves her life.
Ayala’s new knowledge of the hybrids’ free will challenges everything she’s ever known about her job. Racing the clock while trying to outrun her comrades and enemies alike, she’s not sure who will catch her first…
I got the ebook of Storm in a Teacup last year, and it kicked around on my Kindle for a while, until I began to crave a fresh new urban fantasy. And boy, does this series deliver.
Despite a couple of somewhat cheesy elements (the main character’s surname being one, and the fact she and the other Mediators all have violet eyes being the other), Storm in a Teacup gave a fresh face to the idea of a society of demon hunters in an alternate USA.
The violet eyes indicate that a person is destined to be a Mediator; they are taken from their parents and trained from a young age. The means by which they get their supernatural powers — whether they are inherent, or bestowed during the training via external means — aren’t addressed in the first book, but hopefully will be down the track. One of the side-effects of that power is quite sinister and makes me wonder if the Mediators’ origins are less than pure. The “taking babies from their parents” thing is another sign, as is the euphemistic name. They don’t really “mediate” anything that we see; they are basically the world’s pest control, trained to slaughter any demons that stick their noses out of hell. And they don’t even get paid for it, which I found even more appalling!
Ayala is a strong female lead who knows what she wants. She has a taste for luxury in the privacy of her own home, and orange hair … although I never pictured her that way due to the book’s cover. (Also, orange and violet? Poor girl!) Far and away my favourite thing about the book was Ayala’s voice. She is clever, sassy and fun, and tells her story in a first-person, conversational and often hilarious style that totally drew me in. I’d recommend this book just for the voice!
As far as the plot goes, it starts out in a fairly conventional “monster hunt” way, with the demons being the usual, icky and irredeemable evil. As the blurb foreshadows, though, the results of the demons’ new project aren’t as black and white as all that, and Ayala is quickly thrown between the rock of her Mediator indoctrination (demons bad) and the hard place that is her moral code (don’t kill the innocent). I saw the main plot twist coming, but was happy to be taken along for the ride.
Although there is a lot of violence, the sex scene is of the “fade to black” sort, making this book a fairly clean read for anyone from their late teens onwards. (I don’t remember there being swearing, but I tend not to notice that as much.) The story resolves itself, so I was left satisfied, but there are enough elements and questions left that I’ll be reading on to find out more about this intriguing world.
Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his will.
Nobody fights the Epics … nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.
And David wants in. He wants Steelheart — the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David’s father. For years, like the Reckoners, David’s been studying, and planning — and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.
He’s seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.
If Emmie Mears is my favourite new urban fantasy discovery for 2016, then Brandon Sanderson has to be my favourite general fantasy discovery. I listened to Steelheart on audiobook, and it gripped me to the point where I was sneakily listening to it while waiting for my son at school pick-up yesterday.
(It was the penultimate chapter! Don’t judge me!)
Things to love about Steelheart:
David, the main character, is a nerd. But — because he’s spent most of his life in a post-apocalyptic, super villain (aka Epic) world — his nerdiness runs to gun manufacture and use, and to research and trivia about Epics. He manages to be focused on revenge without being broody and obnoxious (phew). And he has the most hamhandedly delightful inability to use metaphors that I’ve ever encountered in a character.
The rest of the Reckoners team is interesting and dynamic. There’s Prof, the gruff leader with a secret; Tia, the scientist and researcher; Abraham, the spiritualist and crack shot with a gun; and Cody, the ex-cop and comic relief. And, of course, Megan, the ice princess who David starts crushing on pretty much immediately.
The plot is full of planning, scheming and a bunch of action sequences that leave you gripped. Guns! Explosions! More guns! (I got a little tired of Sanderson’s gun obsession, truth be told.) A car chase, but with motorbikes and helicopters! BOOM! POW!
The villains are suitably evil, with non-traditional superpowers. Steelheart himself is a bit like Superman, if he swapped out the ice breath for the ability to transform any non-living material around him into, well, steel. A lot of the book is spent (between gunfights) trying to figure out what Steelheart’s kryptonite is. The revelation is one of the final plot twists. Which brings me to…
The plot twists. Sanderson is a master at these things. I thought this time that I was onto him. I saw a lot of the foreshadowing, but … I drew completely the wrong conclusions! Aaah! (Next time, Sanderson! Next time!)
Things I loved a little less about Steelheart:
Some of the descriptions (such as of the guns, or of simple things like the fact Abraham had a soft French accent) got a tiny bit repetitive after a while. I think this might just be Sanderson’s style, because I’ve noticed the same thing in his other books.
I found David’s obsession with Megan, the prettiest girl in the room, a little … I don’t know, shallow? Her attitude towards him was almost always somewhere between chilly and frosty, with only occasional glimpses of warmth. By the end of the book that all made sense, but I never really understood why David kept persisting in trying to impress her. I had to keep reminding myself that he was 18 and not very experienced with girls … or other humans in general.
The counter to this is that her story arc takes a very interesting turn. I’m keen to see where it goes next.
As I mentioned a week or so ago, at the end of January my boy and I went to the coast for five nights with a friend and her son. The lead-up was a bit traumatic as, two days before, my boy managed to slam his finger in the car door, so we had to get it x-rayed to see if it was broken. Thankfully, it wasn’t, just very badly bruised (and I’m sure he’ll lose the nail). Then the day before there was a massive hail storm and my friend’s skylight smashed, so she had to organise the SES to come and patch it up.
It was as though the universe was conspiring. But we overcame!
It was great to have a break, jump waves at/nearly get drowned at the beach, and generally make happy gold-memory-orb-style memories. A highlight for me was successfully flying a kite for the first time in years — on the beach, with the waves threatening to soak my shoes. The boy declared he would remember it forever. Winning!
Another highlight was the crazy thunderstorm that hit the night before we came home. The lightening was constant but erratic, like a misfiring strobe light, and the thunder just rolled on and on. And on. We got over 100mm of rain overnight, and not a lot of sleep. I’m amazed we didn’t wash into the Pacific!
I did a lot of reading. I gobbled Storm in a Teacup by Emmie Mears (review to follow, but spoiler: I loved it), and also finished doing an alpha read on a new release by K. A. Last (spoiler: I loved that too!).
I didn’t do much writing. I was setting out to do no writing at all, but I slipped and fell* and accidentally scribbled a couple hundred words down while the boys were playing an elaborate game involving Transformers and a sunscreen bottle. Eh. Nobody’s perfect.
Putting no pressure on myself was worth it, too. I’d been feeling quite drained going into the holiday, but on the drive home my brain kept yammering story ideas at me. Not fully formed plots, but hints. Whispers. Most of them were inspired by the names of roads or rivers. Shoemakers Creek. Wild Dog Creek. Mount Darragh (which is apparently near Myrtle Mountain — what a great name!). Others were by sights, such as the businessman walking along the single lane highway with a briefcase in hand and his tie flapping in the wind, farmland all around us. Others were by things we were told: apparently there was an earthquake the night before we passed through Bombala. For tectonically stable Australia, that’s rather noteworthy news.
People always ask writers — not just me but properly famous writers — where we get our ideas. Some days, the real question should be how do we get them to shut up?
Still, I feel blessed, and thankful I live in such a gorgeous country, with such awesome names. 🙂 Now I can get stuck into finalising the publication of Melpomene’s Daughter and writing the sequel to Lucid Dreaming.
* I didn’t literally slip and fall, for those familiar with the fashion in which I ruined my first and only overseas holiday.