Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Agency by YS Lee, The Other Daughter by Lauren Willig, Hunter by Mercedes Lackey and The Glass Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

The Agency, A Spy in the House by YS Lee was something of an odd duck of a book. It looks like it might be a self-published effort, yet it was published by Candlewick Press, which I don't believe is a self-pub imprint. Still, I was leery of the novel, though it presented as a historical mystery. The book read as slightly formulaic, a female sleuth of the mid-19th century who, despite being a mere woman, manages to hunt down clues and escape both the hangman's noose and matrimony. Here's the blurb:
Introducing an exciting new series! Steeped in Victorian atmosphere and intrigue, this diverting mystery trails a feisty heroine as she takes on a precarious secret assignment.
Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn is surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners — and an unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls is a cover for an all-female investigative unit called The Agency, and at seventeen, Mary is about to put her training to the test. Assuming the guise of a lady’s companion, she must infiltrate a rich merchant’s home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the household is full of dangerous deceptions, and there is no one to trust — or is there? Packed with action and suspense, banter and romance, and evoking the gritty backstreets of Victorian London, this breezy mystery debuts a daring young detective who lives by her wits while uncovering secrets — including those of her own past.
Though I enjoyed the novel as a whole, I found the prose to be simplistic and the plot easily figured out well in advance of the ending. Mary was by turns brave and wimpy, somehow smart enough for some things and then doing something stupid immediately following that. Still, Mary gets the job done and her ability to adapt and improve her life on being given a second chance was heartening. A well deserved B with a recommendation to those who like Victorian mystery series.

Hunter by Mercedes Lackey is the first book in a new series for the renown science fiction/fantasy author. Lackey has published over 100 novels during the past 25 years, and her Valdemar, Diana Tregarde and Elemental Masters series are some of the best fantasy reading in existence.  Hunter is Lackey's entry into the dystopian YA market, with a protagonist that is the better part of Katniss Everdeen from Hunger Games and Tris from Divergent. Joy is smart, skilled in weapons and magic (and politics) and brave, putting her life on the line to protect "cits" or ordinary people from the horrors that the magical fae creatures would visit upon them. Here's the blurb:
They came after the Diseray. Some were terrors ripped from our collective imaginations, remnants of every mythology across the world. And some were like nothing anyone had ever dreamed up, even in their worst nightmares.
Long ago, the barriers between our world and the Otherworld were ripped open, and it's taken centuries to bring back civilization in the wake of the catastrophe. Now, the luckiest Cits live in enclosed communities,behind walls that keep them safe from the hideous creatures fighting to break through. Others are not so lucky.
To Joyeaux Charmand, who has been a Hunter in her tight-knit mountain community since she was a child, every Cit without magic deserves her protection from dangerous Othersiders. Then she is called to Apex City, where the best Hunters are kept to protect the most important people.
Joy soon realizes that the city's powerful leaders care more about luring Cits into a false sense of security than protecting them. More and more monsters are getting through the barriers,and the close calls are becoming too frequent to ignore. Yet the Cits have no sense of how much danger they're in-to them, Joy and her corp of fellow Hunters are just action stars they watch on TV.
When an act of sabotage against Joy takes an unbearable toll, Joy uncovers a terrifying conspiracy in the city. There is something much worse than the usual monsters infiltrating Apex. And it may be too late to stop them. SPOILER ALERT!
I was delighted that Joy found a way to keep herself from getting offed by a fellow hunter and the cabal of people behind him who wanted her dead. But now that she's an untouchable member of the elite corps, something tells me that those forces will continue to try and murder her, because she's the best monster hunter they've got, and she's honest, kind and smart, and someone doesn't want anyone who can't be manipulated in the Hunter corps. I am looking forward to her further adventures in this well-drawn world that Lackey has created. Her prose is the gold standard, obviously, and the plot brisk and sure. I couldn't put this book down once I started reading it, and, as with many of Lackey's fantasy novels, I read it all in one sitting. I also found myself yearning for the sequel, which is another hazard of reading Ms Lackey's works...they're deliciously like chocolate or potato chips--once you've had one, you are guaranteed to crave another. An A, and a recommendation to anyone who enjoyed Hunger Games or Divergent, and is looking for a well-written series with a fascinating, feisty female protagonist.

I bought The Other Daughter by Lauren Willig because I've read a few of her "Pink Carnation" series and though I enjoyed them, this book was set in the roaring 20s (1920s) and it sounded like something of a departure for Willig, a well educated young woman who has chosen to be a writer instead of a lawyer, and thus improved the quality of literature for us all. Willig's prose is always as sharp as a razor, and in this book, her plot, though full of twists and turns, never lets up for a moment.
Here's the blurb:
Raised in a poor yet genteel household, Rachel Woodley is working in France as a governess when she receives news that her mother has died, suddenly. Grief-stricken, she returns to the small town in England where she was raised to clear out the cottage...and finds a cutting from a London society magazine, with a photograph of her supposedly deceased father dated all of three month before. He's an earl, respected and influential, and he is standing with another daughter-his legitimate daughter. Which makes Rachel...not legitimate. Everything she thought she knew about herself and her past-even her very name-is a lie.
Still reeling from the death of her mother, and furious at this betrayal, Rachel sets herself up in London under a new identity. There she insinuates herself into the party-going crowd of Bright Young Things, with a steely determination to unveil her father's perfidy and bring his-and her half-sister's-charmed world crashing down. Very soon, however, Rachel faces two unexpected snags: she finds she genuinely likes her half-sister, Olivia, whose situation isn't as simple it appears; and she might just be falling for her sister's fiancé...
Poor Rachel/Vera, caught in a nest of duplicity and revenge! She discovers, as most intelligent people do, that nothing is as it seems, and revenge doesn't lessen the pain of abandonment or the grief of losing a parent. Though petulant and childish at times, I did like Rachel, and I loved Simon and his ability to transform Rachel into a glamorous woman. The nobility come off as rather worthless in this book, however, and I found the tidy ending a bit hard to believe. Still, the book deserves a B+ and a recommendation to all who enjoy rags to riches revenge tales.

The Glass Magician by Charlie N Holmberg, who is, as mentioned before, a woman, is the thrilling sequel to The Paper Magician, which I read a week ago. To my surprise, these YA Steampunk novels are self-published/POD novels published and distributed by Amazon. They have lovely covers and are well written and edited, hence my surprise. Here's the blurb:
Now well into her apprenticeship with magician Emery Thane, twenty-year-old Ceony Twill is continuing to discover the joy of paper magic. She adores bringing her spells to life in surprising ways, from learning the power of distortion to creating a beloved paper dog. And she secretly hopes that the romance she foresaw blossoming between her and the peculiar yet strikingly handsome Emery finally becomes real.
But when one magician with a penchant for deadly scheming believes that Ceony possesses a secret, he vows to discover it…even if it tears apart the very fabric of their magical world. After a series of attacks target Ceony, and catch those she holds most dear in the crossfire, she knows she must find the true limits of her powers…and keep her knowledge from falling into wicked hands.
The delightful sequel to Charlie N. Holmberg’s The Paper Magician, The Glass Magician will charm listeners young and old alike.
Things escalate with the nasty blood and "gaffer" or glass magicians in this sequel, and the plot of the novel steams ahead like a runaway train. What surprised me about this novel was that Ceony keeps making huge mistakes and throwing herself into situations where she's likely to die, all the while assuming that she can save the day without having the guts or the full knowledge of her craft to do so. This makes her look none to bright, and with all the mooning about she does over her teacher, Emery Thane, she comes off as quite a turnip. I wanted to shake some sense into her repeatedly throughout the novel, but she does hear from her schools headmistress and from Thane about what an idiot she's been, and SPOILER, after her best friend dies because of her stupidity, Ceony realizes that she's been a reckless fool. The characters are sharply drawn and the prose is crisp and lovely. I'm currently reading the third book in the series, and I am sure that I will be left hankering for more. I'd give an A to this book and the series, and recommend it to those who like shorter, fun Steampunk fantasy novels.

No comments: