The Icarus Hunt

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I was searching for books similar in feel to the TV series Firefly, and a couple lists I came across suggested The Icarus Hunt.  It takes place in space and has a motley spaceship crew with some gray morals, so I figured it was worth a shot.

Is it like Firefly?  For the reasons I listed above, yes.  It didn’t have the main similarity I was looking for – a close-knit crew prone to banter – but it did have several others.  For example, even though there is tension in the crew, you do get the feeling that it’s the crew vs. everyone else.  Some of the crew members engage in questionably legal business, not so much because they want to, but because the economy is such that they can’t make an honest living.  And there is a large, powerful organization with shady motives that they end up crossing.

If those were your primary points of interest in Firefly, you should like The Icarus Hunt.  Heck, I liked The Icarus Hunt, even though I didn’t think it was like Firefly.  One of the main things that differed to me were the crew dynamics.  I can’t go into much detail without spoiling it, but early in the book you learn the crew is a group of strangers, that they don’t particularly like/trust each other, and that one may be a saboteur.

I had mixed reactions to the end of the book.  It explained some things I’d noticed earlier in the story, but it felt a little too neat/convenient.  Or maybe it was because even at the end I was still trying to compare the book to Firefly, and was just expecting something different.

tl;dr = You may or may not think the book is like Firefly, but even without the comparison, it’s worth the read on its own.

Rating: 7.5/10

SpoilerAlert

At the end of the story, we learn that Jordan McKell is an undercover operative.  It explains why he was so good in a fight, but I had been hoping for a slightly different resolution.  Him having been an agent all along kinda ruins the “underdog victory” feeling.

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The Iron Druid series

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IronDruid

Here be spoilers.  I am reviewing the first 3 books of the series simultaneously, so there will be spoilers for them.  You are safe for later books though.

This series revolves around Atticus, a magic-weilding Druid.  He’s the last Druid, he’s able to stand toe-to-toe with gods and survive, he looks young but is thousands of years old, he’s… a male Mary-Sue (aka Gary-Stu). Seriously. It was easy to ignore at first, but the further I got into the series, the more it bugged me.

First, the age thing.  He’s thousands of years old, but somehow knows how to talk, dress, and act to fit in.  In real life, most older people are not up-to-date with modern technology and trends, and yet Atticus, who is many times their age, seems to have no such problem.  He even teases Lief the vampire about seeming antiquated, and Lief is like half of Atticus’ age.

Then the power thing.  A couple of times the book tries to describe the boundaries of Atticus’ power, and try to make him sound limited, but he killed a god.  He also managed to create a magical necklace that other gods hadn’t even thought to make.  At the point where I finally stopped reading, there was nothing Atticus had encountered that seemed like a real threat.  Not even the Bacchants; by the time they showed up, it felt like they were just an excuse to have Atticus make a promise that would lead to the next book.

The female representation isn’t the best.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s sexist, but a lot of it is shallow and/or stereotypical.  There were no female characters that I identified with or liked.  Almost all of the women were beautiful or sexy, except for a funny one, a couple of older ones, and maybe some evil ones.  Granted, this is true to some extent for the male characters too, but the main character is male, so it doesn’t feel as glaring.

Were the books all bad?  No. There were some good points.  Atticus is able to communicate with his dog, and his dog is funny.  In the first book the dog is obsessed with poodles, but overall his thoughts are amusing.  The idea of all the various gods being alive isn’t original to this book, but it is entertaining (most of the time).  There’s witty banter and quips that are funny when in the right dosage, though sometimes the author drags it out.

Overall the first one was pretty decent – maybe a 6.5 or 7 out of 10 – but the second one wasn’t as good, and obviously I didn’t finish the third one.  The books may not be very original, but they still have some fun ideas to play with.  If you like supernatural stories and don’t mind Gary-Stus, you’ll probably get further in the series than I did.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant

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This is one of those rare instance where I wish the book had been longer.  In, fact, I wish this book had actually been two or three books instead of just one.  It wasn’t a bad book, but there were issues that I think would’ve been fixed if there’d been more to it.

The book starts with a young Baru, living with her family unit – two fathers and a mother – in the nation of Taranoke.  Taranoke starts getting visitors from a distant empire referred to as The Masquerade.  It’s a slow invasion, starting as harmless trading, then the Masquerade’s currency is introduced, and then soldiers start trickling in, and then Masquerade schools are built.  Without a real battle ever being fought, Taranoke is colonized and controlled by The Masquerade.  When one of Baru’s fathers is killed, Baru knows it is because The Masquerade considering homosexuality “unhygienic.”  She vows to topple The Masquerade from the inside.

Sounds like a lot, right?  That’s actually only a small part of the story, making up at most one quarter of the book.  The idea of seeing a nation be conquered through economics and politics is interesting, and I think this part could’ve been a book on its own.  It’s good for people with a short attention span, but not so good for those that like to escape into books because there’s simply not enough there.

Once Baru completes her schooling, The Masquerade sends her to act as Imperial Accountant of Aurdwynn, another land they are trying to control.  There she must deal with political intrigue and power games to squash rebellion and keep her life.  Again, while, interesting, this left me wishing for more. Baru’s time in Aurdwynn could easily have been another two books.

If the book had been longer, it might have also smoothed the ending.  I’ll go into more detail about that in the Spoilers section.  Suffice to say, the book is almost a cliffhanger and begs for a sequel.

Was it entertaining?  Yes.  Was it great?  No.  It was good, and it had the potential to be great, but it fell short.

Rating: 7/10

SpoilerAlert

This is a book of acts. Act 1 is Baru in Taranoke.  Act 2 is Baru as Accountant in Aurdwynn.  In Act 3, Baru turns traitor against The Masquerade and joins the rebellion.  And in Act 4, Baru is revealed to be a double traitor, and that her participation in the rebellion was a ruse to draw out all the malcontents, thus positioning them elimination and proving her loyalty to The Masquerade.

Somewhere between Act 3 and Act 4, the book seemed to make an abrupt turn, and for all of Act 4 I was confused.  Not the good, “how could this happen” sort of confused, but the suspicious, squinty-eyed confusion of a reader trying to decide if they’re staring at a story hole or just missed something.

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Perhaps it’s because I never felt really connected to the characters, but I wasn’t that shocked or horrified by the ending.  Instead, I spent the end trying to figure out how the book even got there.  We spend the whole time in Baru’s head, but there didn’t seem to be any obvious clues that she was planning this double-cross.  Since we were privy to her thoughts and emotions, shouldn’t we have at least known something was off, even if we didn’t know what?  Of course, I admit to not being particularly aware of such clues, but I just feel like the book leaped from point A to point E and skipped all the stuff in between.

Ryria Revelations

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I read all three of these books – a total of six stories – in a short period of time.  This will be a short review, partially to keep the first part spoiler-free, and partially because I actually read these a couple of months ago, so my impressions aren’t as sharp anymore.

The main characters of the series are Hadrian and Royce, a pair of mercenaries/thieves-for-hire.  They agree to take a job that turns out to be a lot more than they bargained for, and we get to enjoy the inevitable shenanigans, banter, and fallout.

Each of the six stories has its own, self-contained plot, but they all also play into a larger over-arching plot.  I liked this structure because it kept you wanting more without any one ending being too much of a cliffhanger.  There is also a set of prequel books that the author wrote later, which I believe have the same set up.

Do these books have the depth of Tolkien, Sanderson, or Martin?  No.  It has world-building/history, but it’s not particularly deep, and there are not revolutionary of ground-breaking characters.  In fact, most of the characters are stereotypes or archetypes.  But that doesn’t make this a bad book.  It has action and humor and is a fast, enjoyable read, like a book version of a popcorn-flick.

Rating: 8.5/10

SpoilerAlert

There is one character that I have to say really bugged me, and almost made me knock a couple of points off the score.  She is introduced in either the second story or second book – I can’t remember which – and is originally named Thrace.  She comes across as ridiculously naive and innocent, especially for what she’s been through.  Then after her father and she becomes Empress Modina, but she’s in mourning.  Like, ridiculously deep mourning; she’s basically a mute, walking doll for months.  I think she was supposed to have catatonic depression – that’s a real thing, apparently – but nevertheless, I found her mourning phase to be very grating.  She mostly redeemed herself once she finally snapped out of it, but I thought this was a point that needed to be addressed.

Age of Misrule

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Ancient gods and beings from Celtic myth are rising up and starting to walk in the modern world.  Technology starts to fail, and modern life as we know it seems to be at risk.  A small group of people – dare I call them a fellowship? – unite and go on a quest to seek out magical items to help face this threat.

Sounds great.  I had this book on my Paperbackswap wishlist for months, and was excited to finally get it. Unfortunately I couldn’t even finish the book.  I gave up on page 54, after the main characters – Jack and Ruth – spent a page discussing Jack’s taste in music.  In a word, the book is boring.

By page 54, Jack and Ruth have had one unpleasant encounter with a mythical being and have started to investigate what might have happened.  However, we don’t know what they encountered, or what it might forebode.  We know far more about Jack’s wife, his depression/mourning, and even his musical tastes than we do about anything mythical.  The focus of the story is obviously going to be on the characters rather than on the plot idea of re-emerging Celtic gods, which would be tolerable if the characters were interesting, but I couldn’t care less about Jack or Ruth.  If the main interest of the story is supposed to be the characters, then the characters need to be interesting.

The pace is slow, the characters are dull, and at times the writing is pretentious.  The book seems to aim for intellectual entertainment, but it missed the mark and it put me to sleep.  I’ve given up and am moving on.

Rating: 2.5/10

The Shadow Throne

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It’s probably been almost a month since I’ve read this book, and as is typical for me, a lot of the specific details have already faded.  This will be a sort of mini-review instead.  You can read my review for the first book in the series here.

The main trio of characters – Winter, Marcus, and Janus – have made it back to the capital.  Political shenanigans are afoot, and they most help thwart the ambitions of the Duke Orlanko.  Princess Raesinia is introduced as a new character that the readers follow, and she too is trying to undermine Orlanko’s schemes.

I had mixed feelings about this book.  I liked a lot of the soldiers from Winter’s regiment, but most only appeared briefly in this book, assuming they appeared at all.  Winter was given a task to do separate from Marcus and Janus, and when she actually left to do it, her character felt isolated from the rest of the story.  I didn’t like her as much in this book as I did in the previous.

Janus’ pragmatism is awesome to the point of being almost comedic.  If I had to guess, I’d say the time/world in this book would parallel the East India Trading Company and The Three Musketeers; so 1600’s.  Some of things women got to do – and that Janus allowed/supported – are highly unlikely for such a time period.  Even Marcus’ “old-fashioned” beliefs aren’t realistic.  But then again, there are plenty of books stuffed with sexism, violence, and other such things, so if you need that in a book to enjoy it, just read a different series.

Winter’s plot was disappointing, but Marcus and Janus had some funny lines and the end of the book was exciting.

Rating: 7.5/10

SpoilerAlert

Winter is sent by Janus to infiltrate a group of women, where she crosses paths with her former [female] lover.  They had some drama and some flirting, and I had just as little interest in their romantic story line as I do with the vast majority of romantic story lines.  In the first book Winter had to put on a brave face and be smart and creative to overcome obstacles, but in this one it felt like she was Nero, fiddling over stupid emotional “dilemmas” while Rome/Vordan burned.  I’m very unforgiving regarding romance though, so some may like it.

River Road

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This is the second book of a supernatural/fantasy series set in Louisiana.  My review of the first book is here.

Several years have passed since the events of the first book, and in that time, apparently nothing has happened.  DJ hasn’t talked to Jake or Tish, and Jean Lafitte hasn’t called in her debts to him.  After some serious mixed signals between them, DJ and Alex are still just partners/co-sentinels.  The only difference is that DJ is now renting a space in a strip mall to act as her office.

Right from the start, the author has irritated me.  Either DJ has horrible coping mechanisms to go along with her chronic stupidity, or the author is lazy.  I’m inclined to believe it’s a combination of the two.  DJ is flaky enough that I could see her thinking avoiding situations is a good way to handle them, but I also suspect that the author didn’t want to deal with explaining events that happened between books.

Once we get past the “introduction,” we learn there are two clans of mer-people living in southern Louisiana, and they’re getting sick from swimming in the Mississippi River.  Both clans insist the river is poisoned and blame each other.  DJ is asked to step in, mediate between the clans, and figure out what’s going on with the river.

As the book progressed, we were treated to more examples of the DJ-brand stupidity and tepid “romantic intrigue” I disliked from the first book.  We also got hints that DJ is a speshul snowflake, shoving her into firmly into Mary-Sue territory.  My already less-than-impressed opinion of her slowly ticked down throughout the book.

Yes, this book was set in Louisiana.  Yes, it had magic and supernatural stuff and a potentially interesting story idea.  But while I could tolerate it in the first book, the flaws seemed more glaring and the missed potential more depressing in this book.  Unless you are a fan of YA romance triangles like Twilight, I’d suggest you steer clear.

Rating: 4/10 (At least I finished it)

SpoilerAlert

It’s already obvious to the readers that there’s something between Alex and DJ, even though Alex is supposedly seeing someone else.  At the end of the book – after DJ has been on dates with both Lafitte and Jake, mind you – Alex makes it clear he intends to pursue DJ too, to which I said “fucking finally.”  Not because I was interested in whatever feelings they might have for each other, but because I was so damn sick of the waffling and dancing around each other.  Maybe other people think it’s cute or romantic, but I thought it was just dumb.

Along with having some elvish blood, DJ’s magical elven staff is apparently rare and famous in the elven kingdom.  Because, you know, being pretty and having 3 good-looking guys interested in her wasn’t enough to make the readers see that DJ is awsum-sauce and that they should want to be her, so she had to have a speshul weapon too.  A speshul weapon that let her circumvent the restrictions/limitations of other Green Congress wizards, because wouldn’t it be boring if she had to use her smarts and creativity to deal with those limitations instead?

Considering what’s happened thus far, I’ll make some predictions about the rest of the series:

  • In at least one more book, Jake, Alex, and Lafitte will all continue to show interest in DJ, and there will be more waffling.
  • DJ’s ability to use the staff will prove significant.  Likely it will be because it’s a sign that DJ has a lot of untapped power/magic, that she’s descended from some royal elven bloodline, and/or because there’s a prophecy associated with the staff.
  • DJ’s heritage will eventually be a key plot point.
  • A hot male elf will appear at some point, and will be interested in DJ too.
  • DJ will play a pivotal role in a war between factions of the Beyond and the wizards/Elders.

I don’t intend to read the rest of the series, so if someone else does, maybe they can let me know if I’m right.