City of Lost Fortunes, Bryan Camp

THIS BOOK… my people, this book is what urban fantasy is all about. City of Lost Fortunes follows Jude, whose uncanny gift for finding lost things gets him tangled up in a high stakes game played by the gods. I definitely recommend people keep a watch out for this book, set to release April 17. It’s Bryan Camp’s debut novel as well, which means I am gonna be keeping an eye out for whatever he has coming next.

Something I can’t gush enough about is how perfectly the urban part of urban fantasy is emphasized in this book. New Orleans is basically a character in and of itself, struggling to recover after the devastation of Katrina six years prior to the start of the novel. I loved that the New Orleans itself, its history, its vibe, was so prominent both in the lore and the plot of this book. It matters that it takes place in New Orleans. Katrina is a constant shadow over the characters and the story. It’s obvious that Camp is a New Orleans native—you can see it in the little details and the offhanded way the characters knew the vibe of the different parts of the city.

Camp writes a really vibrant and exciting fantasy culture too—gods and demigods make up the cast, with the occasional human thrown in. What I liked best about the cast is that Camp strikes a perfect balance between all-powerful terrifying gods and simply fun to read characters who it’s not uncomfortable for other characters to interact with. Of course Haitian Vodou was a significant aspect of the lore, but there were whole other pantheons of gods and demigods as well, and they intermingle pretty seamlessly.

I have literally only ONE complaint with this book, and that would be Camp’s insistence on starting every chapter with a couple of super vague paragraphs that I think are meant to be deep/insightful but mostly just annoyed me because it takes you out of the plot a bit. I did have to muscle my way past those, especially in the beginning before I was really into the book, but I am so SO glad I did.

Despite that this book continues to rack up the points in other areas: cool lady characters who don’t bone our scallywag protagonist (even though I was kinda cheering him on at some points…); no End of World Prophecies—just a dude trying to save his city and his own ass; definitely could be standalone; talking dogs (!!!); AND, importantly, villains who are just… gross. And creepy. It makes a huge difference in a novel if the reader is genuinely creeped out by the villains, and I WAS.

Honestly, set your alarms for April 17. This book earns the rarely seen 5 paws up. Find it for pre-order on Amazon.

**I received an advanced reviewers copy of this book. The contents of this review are my honest opinion.

Carry On, Rainbow Rowell

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a novel in possession of a YA plot, must be in want of a Chosen One. Unfortunately for Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On, Simon is like, the Worst Chosen One Ever. This is good news for us readers though because it makes for a really hilarious and entertaining book.

So Carry On can kinda be summed up as gay Harry Potter if Harry was actually pretty crap at being a wizard and Harry/Draco was a thing outside the world of fanfiction. The fact that it’s a HP spoof doesn’t take away from the novel though. Some spoofs you can’t read without constantly thinking of the original, but despite the obvious similarities in setup, I found it very easy to immerse myself in this world and not constantly be thinking of how X or Y thing relates to the source text. There were only two real exceptions. There’s at least one character who is basically just a HP character with her name changed (but since it’s Hermione who is one of the best HP characters it is nice to spend more time with her). Some of the plot twists were a little predictable, not so much because they were unoriginal as because I could kind of figure out exactly which Harry Potter tropes were going to be subverted. Still, I really liked the story that evolved and I wouldn’t have wanted the plot to go a less predictable way because I appreciated the message that came out of it.

The relationships (platonic, romantic, and familial) and characterizations in this novel were beautifully done. Simon is definitely a teenage boy, but even when he was doing stupid teenage boy stuff it felt very honest and justifiable. I didn’t have the usual YA reading experience of being like “OH, MY, GOD, I know you’re a teenager but you can’t be THAT stupid!!” I genuinely got where Simon was coming from and appreciated the ride watching him grow along the way, which I think is indicative of masterful writing. The romance was cute and ultimately believable since I can totally buy that two teenage boys would actually be that dense in their romantic approach to one another.

Really enjoyable read for people who like easy, quirky YA fantasy and good LGBTQ+ rep! I rate this book sunbathing kitten slowly moving across the floor to stay in the light through the window because that’s what I was for the bulk of the afternoon refusing to put this book down.

Interested? Find Carry On on Amazon.

 

Caraval, Stephanie Garber

Stephanie Garber’s Caraval is the story of Scarlett, who enters a dangerous, confusing game– the Caraval– in order to find her missing sister. Along the way there’s some intrigue, romance, and even a little bit of magic. I heard so many good things about this book. It was one of the finalists for the GoodReads Choice Awards, and it’s been all over most of the book blogs I enjoy. I can see why people love Caraval, but for me, it didn’t live up to the hype.

I love the concept behind Caraval. The game itself was a delight to read. The contestants follow clues to lead them to the final prize, but the world of Caraval works in strange ways and it’s difficult to know who can be trusted, since some players will do whatever it takes to win. On top of that, the mystery of the Caraval’s master, a man named Legend, keeps you guessing throughout the novel.

What sucks most about the novel is the same thing that sucks about most YA novels: the romance. I’m super over novels where young girls fall for dark, mysterious, brooding guysHoney, he’s just a douchebag, and revealing alternative explanations for someone’s crappy behaviour after the fact doesn’t justify those behaviours or make them any less crappy. “Cool motive, still murder,” right? On top of that, the romance– or lack thereof– was super dull. There is literally zero genuine chemistry between Scarlett and Julian. The moments where Scarlett questions whether or not she likes him come at you out of left field because there’s literally nothing preceeding them that would give her reason to like him, other than his pretty face.

The ending of Caraval left a lot to be desired for me, as well. There were a ton of twists and reveals which is normally cool, but multiple times I felt like, “wow she really went there! gutsy!” and then Garber pops up and she’s all “nyeaahhh! psych!!” The ending we get is ultimately too safe and too boring for me, considering what we could have had.

Caraval will definitely remain a hit with certain types of readers. If you like your romance steamy if not necessarily with much substance, if you’re into intrigue and puzzles, or if you’re a sucker for happy endings, this may be the book for you. A fun and fast read, definitely, but a little too on the light side for me. I rate this book: poolside-lounging cat…. 3 and half stars.

Have a poolside snooze with Caraval, on Amazon.

A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne

A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne was fun to review. I am a lover of urban fantasy so I’ve been familiar with Kevin Hearne for his super long Iron Druid series. I have to admit that I wasn’t a big fan of Iron Druid. It felt like a less interesting Dresden Files.  Anyways, given my previous lack of interest for Hearne’s most famous work I was a bit leery of A Plague of Giants but I shouldn’t have worried cuz it was a-maaaaazing.

The basic premise is that a bard is telling a city of refugees after a bloody war the story of how they got there, all the key players who contributed to them overcoming not one, but two invasions by giants from across the sea. The bard tells his story through several people who played key roles in the war, so there are several POV’s. Usually the problem I have with multiple POV’s is that there is always one character who is much more interesting than the rest. Abbi quickly grew to be that character even though he was a very boring pacifist at first. Fortunately all of the characters were interesting in different ways so you weren’t like “UGH, a Cersei chapter”; you wanted to read them all. I also love that the cast was diverse and it wasn’t just all young hot straight warriors. There are scholars, merchants, stoneshapers, warriors, bards, warlords and viceroys among the POV characters. I was most excited to read about Abbi, a boy on the cusp of a huge discovery, and Nel, because she is Nel and she is amazing.

The magic system in A Plague of Giants is basically that there people can receive kennings or blessings which grant magical powers. To get them, seekers go to a place where they believe the god is testing them. There’s a good chance of catching death, but if you don’t die you can get some sweet powers. The first kenning, mastery of fire, can be gained from jumping into lava pools. The second kenning you get by throwing yourself into an underwater tunnel/cave, if you don’t drown, congrats you’re blessed. Throw yourself off a cliff to get air blessed, etc.  Surrender yourself to the roots of a tree which will either eat you or bless you.  Within each  kenning there is specialities, some better suited for war and some better suited for building/healing/transportation/what have you. Within the water kenning for example, you can be a hygienist, who can purify water, detect and cure infections and diseases; a “rapid”, who can manipulate water and swim extremely quickly by becoming part of the water, or a tidal mariner- super strong warriors who can manipulate water and possesses great destructive power.

Each blessing site is in a different country, and their societies have been shaped around these different kennings. This was reflected in the choice of language of the PoV characters and was a nice touch. The writing is great- moves fast, describes enough, each character felt unique. The POV characters all mostly drift together into two groups around two major events which shaped the “victory” of the war, but there are rumblings that a civil war may be happening and that the plague of giants might not be totally eradicated. This sets you up perfectly for another book, which I can’t wait to read because I really want to read more about the way Hearne imagines the magic system operating. Altogether, I give this book the highest possible rating.  This is another book that made my poor cats orphans.

MOMMMM

Check out A Plague of Giants on Amazon.

Moroda, L.L. McNeil book review

 

Moroda is L.L. McNeil’s self-published debut. In Moroda we have a high fantasy novel that essentially follows a ragtag band of travellers who’ve come together by accident, swept into a war that pits races and nations against one another. While McNeil has all the most basic elements of an excellent fantasy here—vivid world-building, a strong cast of characters, and a decent story to tell—it is obvious from the start what this novel is missing: a good editor. I think 90% of the complaints I have for this book could be solved if McNeil found herself a professional editor.

The strengths of this novel lie in the foundation McNeil has laid down. The world she’s built is expansive, and she’s accounted for culture and history that influences the current climate our characters exist in. There’s some incredibly interesting lore especially DRAGON GODS (well… kind of…). Anyone who has read my reviews know I appreciate a good dragon tale, and Moroda does not disappoint in that regard. There’s an extremely interesting cast of characters. It’s an ensemble cast, with one main character and several “supporting mains.” I have a tendency to gravitate toward characters who are persecuted, so I immediately took to Kohl and Sapora as my favourites.

Another thing I really want to draw positive attention to about this novel is that it was unpredictable. There’s an obvious enemy set up, but the solutions the characters used to fight him weren’t ones that I would have guessed, which can be hard to find in a fantasy novel nowadays. Additionally, the different political styles and cultural norms of the different races made for a lot of seemingly “wildcard” events, because we are looking at very different groups of people interacting with one another.

The big issues I have with this book are almost all technical, and most of it, I feel, would be solved if the author invested in an editor with a good grasp on characters/characterization. The pacing needs tightening up; in particular, there are times where there’s excessive exposition done through dialogue, and I think it would be better if the author were to let the characters discover some things on their own rather than having other characters explain it to them. Because of the ensemble cast, it sometimes is hard to really determine who’s narrating, i.e. it switches very suddenly from one character’s POV to another to the point where it feels like the author didn’t want to do the work of having character A guess/develop insight regarding character B’s motives, so she simply switched POVs and described what’s going through character B’s head. Character motives also aren’t always clear, or the author hints at them but doesn’t actually convince me that the character’s actions make sense given the explained motive, especially with Moroda and Eryn’s initial involvement in the whole thing. The motive is there– there’s nothing left for them in their hometown, they’re desperate and alone– but instead of further developing this meaningful, deeper motive (which would be far more convincing), the author kind of falls back on having them chase after a few coins. Some characters are also just under-developed, but this I think is because McNeil is grappling with a large cast of central characters. I’m excited to see that one of the characters I consider under-developed is the lead of the next novel, so hopefully we will get to know him better then.

Ultimately this book was definitely worth the read, despite the technical issues.  I think McNeil is a very creative and promising author and I’m looking forward to the next installment in this series, though I’d like to see her grow as an author and put forward a more polished product next time. Verdict: one cautiously optimistic kitten waiting on the next book.

 

Interested? Moroda is available on Amazon.