Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire (InCryptid Series #1)

Ghoulies. Ghosties. Long-legged beasties. Things that go bump in the night… The Price family has spent generations studying the monsters of the world, working to protect them from humanity-and humanity from them. Enter Verity Price. Despite being trained from birth as a cryptozoologist, she’d rather dance a tango than tangle with a demon, and is spending a year in Manhattan while she pursues her career in professional ballroom dance. Sounds pretty simple, right? It would be, if it weren’t for the talking mice, the telepathic mathematicians, the asbestos supermodels, and the trained monster-hunter sent by the Price family’s old enemies, the Covenant of St. George. When a Price girl meets a Covenant boy, high stakes, high heels, and a lot of collateral damage are almost guaranteed. To complicate matters further, local cryptids are disappearing, strange lizard-men are appearing in the sewers, and someone’s spreading rumors about a dragon sleeping underneath the city…

SPOILERS

Seanan McGuire is one of those authors I wish I could fall in love with every single book they write. She has imagination. Do you know how many authors there are who have the ability to write crazy, unique stories that don’t look like anything else currently being written? Not many. But her books have been extremely hit-or-miss for me. I couldn’t get behind Rosemary and Rue, I fell in love with Feed (and to a lesser extent Deadline) which she wrote as Mira Grant, and I’m feeling mixed when it comes to Discount Armageddon. As seems to be the case when I have problems with books, I can’t stop focusing on what I *want* the book to be versus what is actually is.

The first thing was that I found the humor and snarkiness to be overwhelming to the point that it was no longer amusing and more annoying than anything else. Characters being snarky is sort of a standard thing in Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant books, and for the latter, the snark worked a lot better for me because it was in contrast with the all-too serious situation of a world overrun with zombies and a bunch of bloggers solving a mystery and chasing a conspiracy theory. I could easily have seen the story and the world in this book being written in a more serious manner than it was. You have your Cryptids who are starting to live amongst and coexist with humans more and more these days, there’s the Covenant of St. George who’s sole purpose is to eradicate all Cryptids whether they’re a threat or not, a family descended from members who left the Covenant to devote their lives researching the variety of Cryptid species, protecting the harmless ones, and keeping in control the more problematic one, and a bitter, raging feud between said Covenant and family. I would have preferred for this world to be written in a less comedic manner, particularly with regards to the main storyline. I couldn’t fully get behind the whole “there’s a dragon under New York City” plot and the ending was plain weird. The fact that the dragon princesses are humanoid and the male dragons aren’t and yet they mate with each other and have children… this is speculative fiction, and I could not buy this. I just couldn’t.

Also unfortunately, Seanan McGuire’s info-dumping does not look like it’s going away anytime soon. I was able to deal and not mind too much while reading, but it was frustrating. Granted, I’m not a writer and I’m honestly not sure what would have been a better way to disseminate all the information that needed to be told, but… yeah.

Another problem is that the protagonists in the author’s various books tend to have similar, edgy voices, though there is enough difference between them that it’s not a huge problem. I did like reading about Verity; she definitely has a fascinating life to say the least, what with being a Cryptid protector/ballroom dancer by day and a cocktail waitress by night. And I really liked reading about her family history and how they left the Covenant and have since been involved in the family business of cryptid protection/control/research. I did find it somewhat strange that their study is “cryptozoology” but some of the cryptids have human-levels of sentience, like Sarah, who’s Verity’s cousin. “Cryptozoology” sounds like it should be more insulting when implied to those types of cryptids. But that’s just me. The Aeslin mice were absolutely adorable in that schaedenfreude way where I’m glad they’re not interfering with my life but I’m perfectly happy to watch them get in the way of Verity’s with their daily religious ceremonies and continuous cheering of “HAIL”.

The budding relationship between Verity and Dominic was alright – it was enjoyable reading about Verity knocking him down a couple of pegs and him being all, “WTF this girl is my enemy, what is she doing now, why is she so goddamned infuriating, why does she keep kissing me, gaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh.” I would have appreciated a bit more backstory since right now he seems like he’s just a random Covenant dude, but there’ll probably be more development down the line.

Discount Armageddon does possess a number of strengths, including an original premise, solid and imaginative world-building, consciencious attention to detail, a pretty sweet heroine, and Aeslin mice. However, weaknesses include an overload of snark, an overly lighthearted tone, and plot I wasn’t really able to invest in. Again, I really wish this book had worked better for me than it did. Even so, I will probably keep an eye out for the second book, just to see what’s going on in the next story.

Disclosure – library

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Magic Slays by Ilona Andrews (Kate Daniels #5)

Plagued by a war between magic and technology, Atlanta has never been so deadly. Good thing Kate Daniels is on the job.

Kate Daniels may have quit the Order of Merciful Aid, but she’s still knee-deep in paranormal problems. Or she would be if she could get someone to hire her. Starting her own business has been more challenging than she thought it would be – now that the Order is disparaging her good name, and many potential clients are afraid of getting on the bad side of the Beast Lord, who just happens to be Kate’s mate.

So when Atlanta’s premier Master of the Dead calls to ask for help with a vampire on the loose, Kate leaps at the chance of some paying work. Turns out this is not an isolated incident, and Kate needs to get to the bottom of it – fast, or the city and everyone dear to her might pay the ultimate price.

SPOILERS FOR BOOKS 1-4 AND THIS BOOK

I’ve been enjoying this series for a while now, particularly as it’s grown and improved so much from the first book. The characters are a ton of fun, the world-building is phenomenal, and there is so much snark that actually works that I can’t even deal. Naturally, all of this is present in the fifth book. I did notice the recaps of the descriptions of the world more than I did previously in other books, which was a little annoying, but considering it’s a long time between books that I forget details, it’s not a huge problem.

The best thing about this book is Kate and Curran (I’ve pretty much gotten over Curran practically being a douche because Kate’s practically a sociopath – they balance each other out). Their relationship continues to be eventful with major communication issues, which is good, because there should never be a time when reading their interactions is boring. These two are a classic case of “opposites attract” (though they’re alike in more ways than they’d care to admit). But yeah, whenever they’re in each other’s vicinity and one of them opens their mouths, I’m pretty much guaranteed a ton of awesome snark. “Sugar woogums” definitely has to be the worst pet name I have ever heard of in my life, and by “worst” I mean “best.”

I am unsure how the next couple of books will continue the storyline. Obviously Kate and Roland will eventually confront each other, but that still looks very far in the future. There are now the Lighthouse keepers to contend with, so there’ll probably be some more problems with them. Essentially, now that the plot arc of “will Kate and Curran get together” has finished and with the plot arc of “Kate and Roland duke it out” still far off in the distance, I’m not sure where the series is going to go. However, I’m confident the authors have it figured out, and I’m excited to read an entire book from Andrea’s viewpoint, so I’m not too worried. I did enjoy reading this book on its own, but in the context of the overall series, it didn’t do much besides advance some time along and maybe set things up for later.

I also liked how the stakes in the individual books continue to rise and the potential consequences are getting worse and worse. This book’s particular threat is the most… well, threatening of all of the ones so far. Xenophobia and racial purity are like that. And what happened to Julie was pure torture.

Yeah. That’s all I got. I will write better next time.

Disclosure – library

Of Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht (The Fey and the Fallen #1)

Liam never knew who his father was. The town of Derry had always assumed that he was the bastard of a protestant – his mother never spoke of him, and Liam assumed he was dead. But when the war between the fallen and the fey began to heat up, Liam and his family are pulled into a conflict that they didn’t know existed. A centuries old conflict between supernatural forces seems to mirror the political divisions in 1970’s era Ireland, and Liam is thrown headlong into both conflicts! Only the direct intervention of Liam’s real father, and a secret catholic order dedicated to fighting “The Fallen” can save Liam… from the mundane and supernatural forces around him, and from the darkness that lurks within him.

SPOILERS

This seems to be my year for reading brutal books. I definitely did not expect the book to open with Liam being threatened with a gun to his head, getting violently arrested just for watching a protest, and then continuing straight on with his internment in the Kesh where he experiences enough brutality to last a lifetime. And all that occurs in the first couple chapters. The level of intensity, fear, and violence remain sky-high throughout the course of the book, making it an emotional roller coaster. If I had known even a little bit about what exactly occurred in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, I probably would have been less surprised, but that wasn’t the case. And it was fascinating (both in the historical sense and in the “Wow, this is terrifying” sense).

In terms of historical events, the details about life in Northern Ireland, the slang, and the nuances of all the various sides, factions, and beliefs, the author did an incredible job. She had to have done a shit-ton of research and it would have had to be broad and thorough in scope. I would never have guessed that she’s never even visited Ireland, let alone lived or grew up there, but apparently, that’s all true. In terms of setting up the story, there are no info-dumps. Instead, the author throws you into the scene and trusts you’ll keep up for the ride. There were a lot of different military, police, and political factions and acronyms to keep straight, but after fifty pages or so, I started getting the hang of it. In the end, I appreciated the fact that nothing was dumbed down or spoon-fed to the reader – it showed a lot of respect for the actual history and the people involved.

This is especially the case with Liam. That boy – and later the man – never got a break, not even once. Instead he’s always getting beaten up or arrested or tortured or losing his loved ones, to the point that it’s no wonder his powers almost overwhelm him, he’s living in a world of rage and despair. The author reminded me a lot of George R. R. Martin – it was clear she loved her characters, but she used them and she used them hard. Which is good, it just meant I got my heart broken a lot. However, with regards to Liam coming into his power, it was really frustrating. I understood why his mom Kathleen never told Liam about his father or his origins, even though it was obvious that by doing that she was condemning him to a world of hurt and tragedy. But that’s just it! So much could have been prevented; so many people wouldn’t have died if Kathleen had just told him his father was Fey. I understood where she was coming from because her husband’s a douche, but she was a pretty shitty parent when it came to Liam.

I just realized, it’s probably a little sad that this is the first book I’ve read where Irish myths and creatures are part of a story set in a modern-period Ireland, as opposed to the U.S. or pre-Christian Ireland.  I thought it was a cool idea incorporating those myths and creatures not just in a normal, every-day living situation, but in a time filled with chaos and destruction and where the future looks grim more often than it does hopeful. Not only have the Fair Folk always been there, they’ve always had an effect on human events, unbeknownst to the humans in question. There were some times I felt that the book felt more like a historical novel, particularly around the second half, because the speculative elements would drop out or their presence would barely be visible, but I still enjoyed reading those parts, so it was all good.

On the minus side, multiple aspects of the supernatural world and conflict are left ambiguous or unexplained all together. The Fae’s war with the Fallen has a long, complicated history, but it’s mostly glossed over as to what the current conflict is and how that juxtaposes with the conflict occurring in Northern Ireland. The Red Cap is a danger that’s out to get Liam and Kathleen, but it’s never explained what a Red Cap actually is. And when the Red Cap finally reveals his history, he’s accused of lying about it, but that’s never proven or disproven. Similarly, the Catholic Church has a long history of killing the creatures they believe to be the Fallen, but how that function of the Church and the methods they used to kill the Fallen developed are continually pushed to the side. In short, there’s definitely a lot of set-up about what’s going on in the non-human world, a lot that’s hinted at, but little is revealed at the end, which leads me to believe there’ll be a sequel (and if there isn’t, there should be). EDIT: There is a sequel.

This book has been labeled “urban fantasy” by a lot of people, and it makes me happy. It doesn’t follow the mold of most other urban fantasy book – modern-day, set in the U.S., loner protagonist who’s a badass. But none of that matters because it’s still urban fantasy. My main complaint with the sub-genre isn’t the tropes and clichés that are used, but that they’re used to the point that people think a book can’t be urban fantasy without them, which is an incredibly limiting thing to believe and enforce. This book helps to break that belief down and push the boundaries. It says that an urban fantasy can mean anything you want it to, so long as there are fantastical elements and the story takes place in an urban setting.

In the end, I’m really glad I read this book, and I hope it gets a wide readership. It can be read simultaneously as urban fantasy and historical fiction. This book won’t make you happy and will, in all likelihood, make you want to cry, but when you’ve finished it, you’ll be glad that you decided to read it.

Disclosure – bought