“Discount Armageddon” by Seanan McGuire

Discount Armageddon is the first book of the InCryptid urban fantasy series by Seanan McGuire. We follow Verity Price, a member of a family that has dedicated their lives to protecting the cryptid (monster) community (which also includes hunting the cryptids that become a threat to humans.) Verity has moved to New York City to try and decide between her two burgeoning careers – ballroom dance and cryptozoology, but her life becomes more complicated when a member of the Covenant (a rival society that takes a more hardline attitude towards cryptids) arrives in town, and then cryptids start disappearing mysteriously.

Urban fantasy is not my favorite genre – perhaps because cities and sexy clothes/hairdos and nightclubs and so on don’t really appeal to me, even as wish fulfillment. I did enjoy Jacqueline Carey’s Agent of Hel series, but that was more small-town fantasy than urban fantasy. But I’ve heard great things about Seanan McGuire, so I wanted to give this series a go.

As far as urban fantasy goes, Discount Armageddon was pretty good. Verity is a fun protagonist, she’s your typical sexy badass girl who carries a lot of weapons and knows how to use them while looking fabulous all the time (although she does get covered in blood and sewer-juice fairly often.) The central adventure was okay, although I felt like it was a little anticlimactic because the villains were all faceless and we didn’t get to know their motivations very well.

I really didn’t understand Verity’s relationship with her love interest, Dominic, who is supposed to be this cultish killer, but instead ends up being hot, interested in her, and willing to sacrifice all his beliefs that he’s grown up with pretty much instantly. Also, I found the character of Sarah somewhat inconsistent, she’s constantly described as an awkward mathematician, but nothing she said seemed that awkward or nerdy or mathematical to me (other than the one reference to Babylon 5, which I appreciated.) I mean, I know urban fantasy is supposed to be dumb fun, so maybe I’m reading too much into it.

Speaking of reading too much into things, I had so many questions about the world that were not satisfactorily answered. Why are certain animals classified as cryptids but others are just normal animals? – sapience doesn’t seem to have anything to do with it. How do cryptids keep themselves secret if there are so many different species of them? Why doesn’t the Covenant have a permanent presence in the U.S.? Why is this book called Discount Armageddon, other than it being a cool name? And so on…

It’s a good thing that I have questions because it means that I’m into the series enough to think about it. I’ll probably read the next book in the series fairly soon.


Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire (InCryptid, #1)
DAW Books, 2012 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“Six Wakes” by Mur Lafferty

I haven’t read any good sci-fi in a while, so I was looking forward to reading Six Wakes. I’ve enjoyed Mur Lafferty’s other works (The Shambling Guides series), and I’ve even interviewed her on this blog.

Six Wakes is about a crew of a generation ship who wake up in clone bodies to a scene of carnage – their previous bodies are all dead or dying, and the last twenty five years of their memories are missing. As they try to reconstruct what happened and figure out who among them is a murderer, we learn more about their past lives and the politics of cloning.

The real star of this book is the concept of cloning. The author really delves into what our world would evolve into in a few hundred years if cloning and mindmapping was commonplace. I don’t agree with some of the predictions, but they’re consistent and fit the story well. First, we see what “normal” clones are like, and then we are slowly exposed to some of the bizarre (but completely understandable) ways that the technologies could be used.

The characters are good, but they’re a little flat, and I didn’t feel like I was able to connect with them. This could be because of expectations – the author’s Shambling Guides books are urban fantasy, and it’s a staple of the genre to show exactly what the protagonists are feeling and thinking. This is a very different kind of books, everyone on board has secrets they are hiding from each other and from the reader, so they’re pretty tightly buttoned up. I felt like that made the reveals a little awkward, because every member of the crew is also a point of view character at some point, but even though we know their immediate feelings, they never think about their secrets until after they are revealed. I understand that that kept the tension in the story, but I couldn’t help feeling like some of the revelations seemed to come from nowhere.

Sometimes I felt like the book had too much human drama, but the conclusion of the story is satisfying – the technology is cool throughout, but in the end, everything comes down to human decisions.


Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty
Orbit Books, 2017 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


Reread: “Heir of Novron” by Michael J. Sullivan

I’m going to keep this review very short because it’s an omnibus edition of books five and six of The Riyria Revelations, which means I’ve read and liked the rest of the series. And it’s a reread, which means I like the series enough to reread it. So there’s not a lot to say here. For my previous reviews of books set in the world of Elan, see Age of Myth, The Crown Tower, The Rose and the Thorn, The Death of Dulgath, Theft of Swords, and Rise of Empire.

The first book in the omnibus is Wintertide, and it’s a pretty standard penultimate book – our heroes conquer the immediate threat only to realize there is a much larger threat looming. Conquering the immediate threat is very satisfying, though, and Hadrian is especially great in this book. Arista does some morally questionable things under torture (condemning an innocent person to execution), and I would have liked her to have given it some thought afterwards, but it doesn’t get addressed at all. That’s a minor quibble, though.

The final book is Percepliquis, where humanity has to figure out how to deal with an invasion by the vastly superior elves, and the only hope lies in finding an ancient artifact in the lost city of Percepliquis. This is probably my least favorite book of the series because it’s basically a dungeon crawl for most of it, and I found that pretty boring. The ending is great, but it leaves me really curious to find out what happens next. Michael J. Sullivan has said he will not write an immediate sequel series, but I hope he changes his mind.


Heir of Novron by Michael J. Sullivan (The Riyria Revelations, #3)
Orbit Books, 2012 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


Abandoned: “Crossroads of Canopy” by Thoraiya Dyer

I’ve never reviewed a book I didn’t finish, but I figured I should start doing it because it’s still useful information for readers. So here’s the first one – Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer.

Crossroads of Canopy is set in Canopy, a treetop city divided into thirteen niches, each the home of a god. Souls enter the body of its inhabitants at birth, and anyone could end up being the reincarnation of a god. In order to escape her parents plan to sell her into slavery, Unar, a young girl from a destitute family, volunteers to serve at the Garden of Audblayin, the goddess of growth and fertility. She has high hopes for her future, but as they are repeatedly dashed, she is forced to venture outside Canopy to seek glory.

I really thought I would like this book – it has a unique fantasy world and a female protagonist coming of age, and it took me a while (and reading another review) to figure out why I didn’t. Unar is unlikeable – she’s selfish, ambitious, and impetuous, but she’s played straight as the hero. Her constant sexual fantasizing about someone who is literally incapable of returning her desires skeeved me out too. I didn’t care about any of the other characters either, and so I didn’t care what happened to them. I stopped reading about halfway through, and there was still no larger plot established, it just seemed like The Adventures of Unar Seeking Fame.

Maybe Unar gets better in the second half of the book, and maybe she learns more about herself and becomes a better person – I’m not sure. I did skip ahead and read a little bit of the end, and it seemed like she did learn something. I was already disinvested and frustrated by that point, though.

I feel bad writing this review – Crossroads of Canopy is definitely not badly written or executed.  I’ve disliked a few other recent books that many other people have loved (A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab, Updraft and Cloudbound by Fran Wilde), and this book reminded me of those, although I’m still struggling to articulate what they all have in common. If you liked one of those books, maybe you’ll like this one more than me.


Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer (Titan's Forest, #1)
Tor Books, 2017 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


Reread: “Rise of Empire” by Michael J. Sullivan

Rise of Empire is the second volume of the Riyria Revelations, containing the third and fourth books of the series, Nyphron Rising and The Emerald Storm. I’m going to keep this review short, since it’s obvious that I really enjoy this series. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be rereading it instead of reading something from my massive pile of unread books. For more Royce and Hadrian reviews, see The Crown Tower, The Rose and the Thorn, The Death of Dulgath, and Theft of Swords.

In Nyphron Rising, the Church of Nyphron has finally implemented its centuries-old plan to unite most of the kingdoms of Avryn into an empire under newly crowned emperor Modina. However, Melengar and the Nationalists from Delgos remain thorns in the new empire’s side, and Prince Alric and Princess Arista are determined to keep the resistance alive. As the official royal protectors, Royce and Hadrian are crucial to the war effort. This is definitely a war book, although it doesn’t focus too much on the battles, it’s about war and its effects. I used to think that Arista was an annoying character, but upon rereading this, I actually really like her. She’s naive at first, but she grows and comes into her own in this book, and she’s probably one of my favorite characters.

The Emerald Storm is probably the most depressing of the books, it’s the part in the series where everything goes wrong and our heroes seem like they have no chance of winning. If this was a trilogy, this would be the second book. The tone of Royce and Hadrian’s story is more like an adventure novel, a lot of it is set on a ship, and there’s a mission into barbarian jungles. I don’t  find ships particularly interesting, so I was glad that despite being named after the ship, the book had a significant portion of time off the ship. I wasn’t a big fan of the warlord and goblin plotline, I felt like they were reduced to stock “evil” characters in a series that usually focuses more on individuals and not their race. I probably enjoyed Arista’s story the most, she realizes that the war may not be the most important thing going on, and changes her plans.

I’m already halfway through Heir of Novron (I had to, after the way Rise of Empire ended), so expect that review soon.


Rise of Empire by Michael J. Sullivan (The Riyria Revelations, #2)
Orbit Books, 2011 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


Reread: “Theft of Swords” by Michael J. Sullivan

My recent reads of Age of Myth and the three Riyria Chronicles have put me in a very Royce-and-Hadrian mood, so I figured I would go back to where it all began and reread the Riyria Revelations series. These books were the first one published about the world of Elan, although they’re the latest by internal chronology. I got the whole series from Orbit in 2015 and really enjoyed them, but I raced through them too quickly to review them properly.

The Riyria Revelations was originally self-published as six novels. When Orbit bought the rights, they released the books in three volumes, each containing two books. Theft of Swords is the first of these, combining the first two books The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha.

Royce, a cynical ex-assassin, and Hadrian, an idealistic master swordsman, call themselves Riyria. Riyria specializes in solving impossible problems for mostly rich people – stealing a lady’s private diary from a locked tower for her lover to save face, that sort of thing.

In The Crown Conspiracy, when they’re offered a huge amount of money for stealing a sword, they break their usual roles to take the job. Of course, it’s too good to be true and they end up being framed for the murder of the king. But this is Riyria, and the conspirators who framed them get far more than they bargained for. The Crown Conspiracy is a pretty standard fantasy story, it feels standalone, and probably would be if it didn’t introduce so many characters that are important later. There’s a spoiled prince, an independent princess, kidnappings, treachery, a mysterious wizard, and so on. The crisis is averted by the end, and Royce and Hadrian think nothing more of it.

Avempartha picks up a couple of years later, and (in case the title of the book didn’t make this obvious) once again involves Royce and Hadrian being hired to steal a sword. This time they’re hired by a poor peasant girl, Thrace, to retrieve the only weapon that can kill a magical creature plaguing her village from an impregnable elven fortress. To add to the mystery, Thrace was told how to find them by the mysterious wizard in the first book that Royce and Hadrian haven’t heard from in years. This book starts exploring the central mystery of the Riyria Revelations a lot more, and there’s more magic, evil plans, and so on, but not everything is resolved by the end. It’s still mostly a satisfying standalone story, but there are threads left dangling. Characters from the first book – Arista, Mauvin, and Fanen, among others return, and they’re welcome.

A few other thoughts:

  • I remember Arista being much more annoying from my previous read. Maybe it’s in the next couple of books? She’s still mostly in her comfort zone so far, and I don’t remember what happens next exactly, but I don’t think it’s good for her.
  • Royce is a lot nicer than he is in the Riyria Chronicles, which is nice to see. He doesn’t even seem to be totally serious about killing people anymore.
  • Hilfred is a far more poignant character after reading The Rose and the Thorn.
  • Thrace’s story arc is probably my favorite (from what I remember), I’m looking forward to reading that.

If you haven’t already read this series and you’re a fan of cozy fantasy with some great twists, I recommend you pick it up!


Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan (The Riyria Revelations, #1)
Orbit Books, 2011 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“The Death of Dulgath” by Michael J. Sullivan

I’ve had The Death of Dulgath for over a year now, I participated in the Kickstarter that funded its publication. Now that I’ve finally read The Crown Tower and The Rose and the Thorn, I was able to get around to reading it!

Royce and Hadrian have been partners for about three years now, and they’re comfortable with each other. They’re running low on funds when Albert comes to them with an offer that seems almost too good to be true – analyzing a noble’s security and figuring out the best way to assassinate her so that her sheriff can protect against it. Of course, things are never as easy as they look, and Lady Dulgath is no ordinary woman.

This was probably my favorite of the Riyria Chronicles – the origin story told in the first two books was fun, but didn’t stand alone quite as much. I would read a series where Royce and Hadrian decide to become detectives and solve cozy mysteries in cute little towns, because that’s what this feels like, and it’s great. I mean, they’re not investigating a murder, they’re just trying to learn about their client and explain the oddness of the county of Dulgath, but there is murder along the way, so it’s close enough. And the worldbuilding is expanded considerably as the mystery gets revealed, which was nice.

Some of the common Riyria weaknesses continue here (especially the villain’s Plan Infodump), which takes a little bit of the tension out of the story. That’s a known quantity, though, and so I didn’t mind. I do hope there are more Riyria Chronicles, I’d read them in a heartbeat.


The Death of Dulgath by Michael J. Sullivan (The Riyria Chronicles, #3)
Mascot Books, 2015 | Buy the book


“The Rose and the Thorn” by Michael J. Sullivan

After I reviewed The Crown Tower, I immediately started reading The Rose and the Thorn. Based on past experience I’m forcing myself to review each book before I read the next one in the series, otherwise the stories start to blur together and I can’t separate the books enough to review each one individually.

The Rose and the Thorn is the second book in the Riyria Chronicles series of standalones. Whereas the first book, The Crown Tower, told the story of how Royce and Hadrian became partners, this book tells the story of how they came to form Riyria and ended up in the arrangement we see them in at the beginning of Theft of Swords. A year after the events of The Crown Tower, Royce and Hadrian are back in Medford and stop by at Gwen’s – only she won’t see them because she’s been beaten up, and she’s trying to protect them from getting themselves killed trying to help her. Of course, this is Royce and Hadrian, and they can take care of themselves. We also get some additional viewpoints at Castle Essendon, the seat of the royal family of Melengar, as a plot against them unfolds.

This was a fun story, it was nice to see Royce and Hadrian settle into their element. Plus, we are introduced to early versions of more of the Riyria Revelations cast. I always think of these books as cozy, but there’s actually a fair amount of death and destruction and darkness, exemplified by Royce’s actions. Royce is terrifying, and I don’t know why I think of him as lovable.

The last chapter of this book (The Visitor) really frustrated me, though – its only purpose seemed to be to set up Theft of Swords with all the subtlety of a hammer. Foreshadowing is great, but the most fun thing about it is putting things together from what seem like inconsequential details upon first glance. I already thought the references to an unrevealed co-conspirator were fairly obvious, but to tack on a whole chapter laying it all out in the open felt like overkill. And reading this chapter also made me figure out the feeling I have when reading Sullivan’s books that I haven’t been able to articulate in my previous reviews – the dialogue in his books is always a little bit too on-the-nose for his characters to feel completely real. Especially the villains – they often explain their plans concisely and articulately at some point.

Despite my complaints, I still really enjoy these books, and I’m hurriedly reviewing this book so that I can get to The Death of Dulgath. I’m particularly excited about that one because it feels like it’ll be more of a standalone adventure and not so much of the origin story that the first two books have been. And after that, I’m also contemplating a reread of the Riyria Revelations.


The Rose and the Thorn by Michael J. Sullivan (The Riyria Chronicles, #2)
Orbit Books, 2013 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“The Crown Tower” by Michael J. Sullivan

Reading Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan made me want to go back (to the future!) and read some more Riyria. I’ve read the entirety of the Riyria Revelations series, but I hadn’t read any of the standalone Riyria Chronicles yet – starting with this book, The Crown Tower. I don’t have any of the Riyria Revelations books reviewed because I raced through them so fast, so I’m forcing myself to go slower with this series.

The Crown Tower is the origin story of Riyria – it tells the story of how Royce and Hadrian first met and their first adventure together – robbing the Patriarch of the Nyphron church. Gwen is also a viewpoint character, and the book covers how she met Royce and Hadrian as well. I don’t remember the minor details of the Riyria Revelations books enough to comment on how much of this story is referenced in them (if at all), but some of the major plot points are definitely foreshadowed.

I enjoyed this book. More Royce and Hadrian is never a bad thing, and it was interesting meeting them when they aren’t quite the people I was used to. There isn’t really much of an antagonist – the conflict is just Royce and Hadrian’s intense dislike of each other. There are people after them, but it’s not personal.

I was a little disappointed at how little control Royce and Hadrian had over their meeting – they are literally forced together by Arcadius. Gwen displays a little more initiative, but she is also bound by prophecy. I would have been much less sympathetic to how everything happened if I hadn’t read the Riyria Revelations series, so I would definitely recommend reading that series first, starting with Theft of Swords.

Now that I’ve reviewed this, I can go ahead and read The Rose and the Thorn!


The Crown Tower by Michael J. Sullivan (The Riyria Chronicles, #1)
Orbit Books, 2013 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“Empire Games” by Charles Stross

I’ve never read any Charles Stross before, but he’s been on my wishlist for a very long time, so I was excited to read this book. It’s set in the world of his Merchant Princes (also known as Family Trade) books, but it’s the start of a new series. I had high hopes, but I ended up being a little underwhelmed.

After terrorist “world walkers” from an alternate timeline nuked the White House, the U.S. has become a paranoid surveillance state. Rita Douglas is the adopted daughter of a family that knows how to keep their head down and out of trouble – her grandparents escaped from the GDR and outwitted the Stasi. Unknown to her, the U.S. government has been keeping tabs on her since she was eight – her birth mother was a known world walker and she has the gene as well. She’s recruited to become the first American world walker spy. Meanwhile, her birth mother is trying to rebuild modern technology in an alternate timeline while waiting for the inevitable U.S. first contact.

There are a couple of reasons why I didn’t love this book, the biggest one being that I just didn’t believe the picture that Stross painted of the timeline closest to our world. It was the same until 2003 when the nuclear attack on the White House happened, but since then, the Bill of Rights has become a farce, conservative values have taken root (Roe vs. Wade was overturned), society is more overtly racist and homophobic, and India and Pakistan have had a nuclear war. Surveillance is everywhere – every street corner has a camera, and there are advanced algorithms to identify suspicious people.

The danger of setting up an alternate reality that diverged only a few years ago is that it will inevitably ring false to many people. Everyone has opinions about the times they live in. I just couldn’t believe that Americans would give up privacy or civil liberties to such an extent, or that our increasingly liberal world would suddenly descend into a moral panic about race or homosexuality. And India and Pakistan having a nuclear war struck me as exceedingly unlikely – there’s no political gain to either country going to war (much less nuclear war), and I don’t think there would be popular support for war at all (from having grown up in India.) References to “President Rumsfield” implementing draconian surveillance measures, and far too many references to the “Defense of Marriage Act” made me suspicious that the author was using the story as kind of a dumping ground for his politics.

The story and characters were fine, but they were inseparable from the world, so it made me hard to get invested in them. The tone of the book is an old school spy/tradecraft story, with much lamenting about skills lost after the Cold War ended. Without the world being what it is, I have no idea who Rita would be. Miriam and her timeline are much more interesting – the problem of introducing modern technology rapidly to a society with old fashioned values is fascinating, and I liked seeing the glimpses of how that was being implemented.

The book uses omniscient narration, including things like behind-the-scenes transcripts from Rita’s handlers, and that meant there was very little tension in the story. There was no real anxiety about Rita’s mission to the other timeline because we’ve been following the other timeline through Miriam and we know they’re fairly nice people. Rita’s contentious relationship with her handlers could have been a lot more ominous, but we’re reading their transcripts and we know they’re well-intentioned even if they occasionally misjudge her. There are hints of a larger threat established, but since they haven’t been encountered at all so far, that doesn’t add much excitement either.

I’m not saying this was a bad book – it was well written and well executed for what it wanted to be. What it wanted to be just wasn’t for me.


Empire Games by Charles Stross (Empire Games, #1)
Tor Books, 2017 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.