Tag Archives: fantasy

Audiobook Review: By Fairy Means or Foul, by Meghan Maslow, performed by Greg Boudreaux

The last thing half-dragon, half-fairy private investigator Twig Starfig wants to do is retrieve a stolen enchanted horn from a treacherous fae, but there’s no denying the dazzlingly gorgeous unicorn who asks Twig to do just that. Literally, no denying, because compelling the reluctant detective is all part of a unicorn’s seductive magic.

To add to his woes, Twig is saddled with the unicorn’s cheeky indentured servant, Quinn Broomsparkle. Dragons are supposed to want to eat humans, but Twig’s half-dragon side only wants to gobble up Quinn in a more . . . personal way. Making matters worse, it’s obvious the smokin’ hot but untrustworthy sidekick is hiding something. Something big. And not what’s in his trousers. In the PI business, that means trouble with a capital Q.

Throw in gads of zombies, a creepy ghost pirate ship, a malfunctioning magic carpet, and Twig’s overbearing fairy father’s demands to live up to the illustrious Starfig name. Naturally, an old but abiding enemy chooses this time to resurface, too. Those inconveniences Twig can handle. The realization he’s falling for a human who isn’t free to return his affections and whose life may hang on the success of his latest case?

Not so much.

By Fairy Means or Foul (Starfig Investigations #1), by Meghan Maslow, performed by Greg Boudreaux

Rating: 4.75 out of 5

I went into this one with some trepidations. The blurb is pretty over-the-top, after all. As far as it goes, it’s pretty true to the book, but it leaves out something that makes it all worthwhile: the fact that Maslow has created characters with some terrific depth that the reader really comes to care about. Once you roll with the farcical fantasy elements (and there are more than enough of those here!) you get one hell of a fun story.

The story is told by Twig, and I really liked that we see the world through his eyes, with elements of discrimination and injustice that he doesn’t like but just has to live with. His family history and the decisions he’s made to this point in his life make him a fascinating character, balancing between two worlds yet never fully a part of either.

Then we have Quinn, who has So. Much. Sass. He starts out in a terrible situation, and the more we learn about him the more we cheer for him, and for Quinn and Twig as a couple (uh, spoiler alert? Yeah, not remotely). The two play off each other perfectly, and the recurring themes of personal independence and control only serve to highlight the chemistry between the two. Although the antagonist characters are paper thin, the supporting characters that Twig and Quinn meet along the way make up for it.

As for the overarching story, there’s not a whole lot of mystery; rather, things are episodic as in a typical fantasy quest. Maslow does have a lot of fun with the usual fantasy tropes, leading the reader often to assume things about places or characters that turn out to be less than accurate. As I was reading this I couldn’t help but be reminded of Glen Cook’s Garrett Files series and while there are some similarities the depth of the characters in By Fairy Means or Foul make this a much more enjoyable and interesting book. I look forward to seeing more in this series!

As for the audio, Boudreaux thoroughly nails this one. Twig’s narration is in a deadpan, Patrick-Warburton-esque tone that fits the story perfectly. Quinn’s nervous tenor voice offsets Twig nicely, and the variety of accents used for the cast of characters makes each one unique and easy to follow. The best parts of Boudreaux’s performance were the verbal idiosyncrasies and changes in tone and inflection that don’t always come across in the written word, but are employed perfectly here. He takes a fun and engaging story and elevates it further into something really enjoyable. I’ll definitely seek out his work again.

If you’re looking for an enjoyable book with some great characters that doesn’t take itself too seriously, this is the one. The audiobook makes it even better and I recommend it highly!

Book Review: The Lords of Davenia series, by Mason Thomas

 

Lord Mouse (Lords of Davenia, Book 1), by Mason Thomas

Scoundrel by nature and master thief by trade, Mouse is the best there is. Sure, his methods may not make him many friends, but he works best alone anyway. And he has never failed a job.

But that could change.

When a stranger with a hefty bag of gold seduces him to take on a task, Mouse knows he’ll regret it. The job? Free Lord Garron, the son of a powerful duke arrested on trumped up charges in a rival duchy. Mouse doesn’t do rescue missions. He’s no altruistic hero, and something about the job reeks. But he cannot turn his back on that much coin-enough to buy a king’s pardon for the murder charge hanging over his head.

Getting Garron out of his tower prison is the easy part. Now, they must escape an army of guardsmen, a walled keep and a city on lockdown, and a ruthless mage using her power to track them. Making matters worse, Mouse is distracted by Garron’s charm and unyielding integrity. Falling for a client can lead to mistakes. Falling for a nobleman can lead to disaster. But Mouse is unprepared for the dangers behind the plot to make Lord Garron disappear.

The Shadow Mark (Lords of Davenia, Book 2), by Mason Thomas

Auraq Greystone, once a military officer with a promising future, exists on the fringe of society. Accused of murder, Auraq is on the run from the ax-until two fugitives crash into his solitary life. One is a young man named Kane. The glowing marks on his arm pulse with an otherworldly power, and they have made him the target of a sinister organization called the Order of the Jackal. When the old man protecting Kane dies in an ambush, Auraq swears an oath to take his place.

But the runes are far more significant than they realize. They are a message from the shadow realm, a dark memory of the past-one holding evidence of a bloody massacre and its savage architect; one that will shake the kingdom to its foundation. Risking arrest and execution, Auraq fights to get Kane to the capital city where the cryptic marking can be unlocked. And with assassins close on their trail, Auraq might never get the chance to show Kane what’s in his heart-or the way their journey together has changed him.

The Shadow Mark is an epic tale of magic, murder, conspiracy, betrayal, and-for the two men tasked with unraveling the mystery-love and redemption.

Ratings:
Lord Mouse – 4.75 out of 5
The Shadow Mark – 4.25 out of 5

One of the big challenges of writing high fantasy is how to approach a genre that is so well-traveled. You can spend a lot of time world-building, and try to create something novel. Alternatively, you can sketch out a world (general social class structure, level of technology, where the characters fit into the world) and let the reader fill in the blanks. Mason Thomas takes the latter approach here, and in my opinion it’s an excellent choice.

The driving force in these books is the characters. Mouse is clever, sarcastic, and morally questionable at times. Garron is a strong-principled man, born to the noble class but not blinded by it (usually). The two make for a fun pairing as they spark off one another initially and slowly grow together. Auraq is smart and wise in the ways of the commoners’ world, and willing to honor an oath at all costs. We get less of a good mental picture of Kane, which is why I favored The Shadow Mark somewhat less. He is a likeable enough character, although driven by forces beyond his control.

The bulk of Lord Mouse is essentially a caper. Mouse setting up the escape, then Mouse and Garron (and some unexpected allies) finding their way out of captivity. The mystery is wrapped up neatly and the ending is quite satisfying, with no cliffhanger. The Shadow Mark is more of a quest as Auraq and Kane fight to find someone to make sense of the glowing marks. Again, the mystery is wrapped up well, though there are a few loose ends left over for later books.

I believe that one of the hallmarks of a good author is the quality of their secondary characters, and the roles that they play in the story. Thomas populates the books with a wide cast of characters, and they are well-defined and interesting to read. You know what their motivations are, or what they might be, or perhaps you think you know, but you’re wrong! This makes the story so much more enjoyable.

Thomas’ writing is a pleasure. The stories are well-plotted and well-paced. Descriptions are lush but not overly drawn out, and the reader is able to easily imagine what this world looks like. A stereotypical fantasy-world map might be useful here, but it’s not really a necessity. For all that these books take place in the same world at approximately the same time, they are stand-alone and could be read in either order, though a few references are made in The Shadow Mark that tie it loosely to Lord Mouse. The “heat level” here is relatively low, and all but nil in The Shadow Mark. I’m just happy to see strong gay main characters in well-written fantasy stories!

I am very much looking forward to book three in this series.
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Book Review: Worth the Wait (Worth #3), by Lyra Evans

A proposal turned political…
Detective Oliver Worth doesn’t always think things through. When he proposed to Connor Pierce in front of all the packs of Logan’s Court, he thought he was being romantic. It was a grand gesture to show Connor he meant it—that they were Fated, that Oliver wanted to spend the rest of his life with Connor. He didn’t think he was proposing a bond that would unify the Courts of Logan and Nimueh, forever solidifying peace between the two kingdoms. If he had, maybe he would have expected the fallout.

Marked a murderer…
When Oliver and Connor’s bonding ceremony is interrupted by news of a murder—with Connor the prime suspect—Oliver and Connor are forced to disappear into hiding in Maeve’s Court. With a dwindling list of allies, they must race to solve the murder and clear Connor’s name. But with every passing moment, the political landscape of the Three Courts shifts toward destabilization and war, with Connor and Oliver at the centre of it all. As the evidence mounts against Connor, and the Courts prepare for all-out war, the case gets more convoluted. Is Connor being framed for murder? Is the murder only one part of a much larger plan? And with Connor presumed guilty across the Three Courts, how far does the conspiracy stretch?

A grasp for power…
The road ahead is more treacherous than Oliver ever imagined. As he pushes to find answers and save his lover, Oliver must hold desperately to the belief that he and Connor really are meant to be. Can they work fast enough to find the real killer and save their Courts from all-out war? Or will their Fated love be Fated to die?

Worth the Wait (Worth #3), by Lyra Evans

Rating: 5 out of 5

This is a great way to cap an extremely enjoyable series! Having established the characters and the setting well in previous book, Evans is free to dive deeply into the characters and the world of the Three Courts. The political machinations take center stage here, as does a pretty clever mystery.

We (finally!) learn both Oliver and Connor’s family histories, and that plays a big part in the story. The heat and passion between these two is there as always, though the on-page hotness is toned down from previous books. The fast-paced story more than makes up for this though as our heroes traverse one end of the Three Courts to the other seeking to clear their names.

As always, the side characters shine here, from the stalwart Donna, Connor’s second in command, to the wild and fearless reporter Rory. The small side-plot involving border guard Brook was sweet and sad, and not something I had noticed in previous books.

I enjoyed this book so much. I’m sad to leave Oliver and Connor but the ending of their story is so perfect I have no complaints whatsoever!

(Side note: That cover…ugh. I mean, at least they’re consistently bad throughout the series, so I guess there’s that.)

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Book Review: Worth the Trouble (Worth #2), by Lyra Evans

Detective Oliver Worth is still new to the whole ‘relationship’ thing. He spends every moment of his free time in Logan’s Court with Connor, then slips over the border to Nimueh’s Court to get back before dawn. It’s exhausting, but it works. After all, Oliver’s still closeted, and the Nimueh’s Court Police Department is hardly the most welcoming of places.

Connor Pierce, on the other hand, feels differently. When he asks Oliver to begin a public courting tradition, Oliver panics and runs back to Nimueh’s Court to think things through. The problem is someone has already made the decision for him. Now he’s the butt of every officer’s joke, and his Captain must disclose his relationship to the Commissioner. Oliver’s sure his life can’t get any more messed up.

But when a call comes in asking Oliver to consult on a murder back in Logan’s Court, Oliver is forced to accept the reality that things have only started to fall apart. With Connor mourning and desperate to find the killer, Oliver barely has a chance to deal with his true feelings about going public. Worse, the case has virtually no evidence and no leads. Having no options and the threat of more deaths around the corner, Oliver gives in and calls for a Special Investigator to help. Only the Investigator they send is the last person Oliver wants.

Now Oliver isn’t just dealing with a dangerous murderer, he’s facing a past he’d long-since buried and the slow crumble of his first real relationship in years. Can Oliver weather the storm of his fears and unresolved feelings to move forward and give Connor what he needs? Or will the past destroy every possibility of Oliver and Connor’s future?

Rating: 5 out of 5

Having dispensed with the majority of the character introductions in the first book of the series (Worth a Shot), this book has time to tell a great story with a tricky mystery as well. Oliver’s mixed emotions toward relationships make sense in the context of his past, which we learn more about here. It’s painful to see his world blow up in his face, though I could wish more time would be spent on the repercussions of this.

Instead, it’s back over to Logan’s Court, submerged in a werewolf culture that Oliver knows little about and struggles to learn on the fly. The tension of the mystery ramps up throughout the book, and in the meantime Connor and Oliver try to sort out where they stand. A big hazard in a story like this is that one part of the story or the other can take over the book. Here, the mystery and relationship development are given a proper amount of weight, as is the interaction between them. As with the first book, I could wish to know more about Connor’s past – maybe this will be addressed in the third and final book, Worth the Wait.

I really enjoy Evans’ minor characters here. The inscrutable Donna, the irritating-yet-alluring Sky, and even the border guards are fun and interesting. This helps create a more complex world that draws the reader in. And as before, the intimate times between Oliver and Connor are incredibly sexy. The settings are a bit offbeat, but that definitely kept this reader’s interest.

(And again…ugh, that cover. It still has no relation to how I picture the characters, but whatever…)

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Book Review: Worth a Shot (Worth #1), by Lyra Evans

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Worth a Shot (Worth #1) by Lyra Evans

Detective Oliver Worth has everything he needs-the job he always wanted and a knack for picking one-night stands. When a high-born Witch is found murdered on the steps of Nimueh’s Court, Oliver is given the case of the century-because no one else will touch it. Not when it looks like the murder was committed by a Werewolf.

The Treaty between the Courts of Nimueh and Logan has stood for over a hundred years, and peace was hard-won. If a Werewolf is responsible, the murder counts as an act of war and would plunge both kingdoms into chaos. Something Oliver’s Captain is keen to point out.

Treading lightly, Oliver has no choice but to venture alone into Logan’s Court to investigate. The trail of clues leads right to Connor Pierce, a newly minted Alpha of Logan’s kin. Connor is gorgeous and captivating and absolutely a suspect. Determined to do his job and catch the killer, Oliver finds he’s now got more to worry about than an inter-kingdom war. He tries to ignore his growing desire, but Connor keeps drawing him in. Everything about Connor is intoxicating, and Oliver isn’t sure how long he can fight off temptation…

Now there’s not just the peace of two kingdoms on the line-there’s also his heart.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Now, I appreciate hot, steamy scenes in my reading as much as the next gay guy, but I prefer for a book to be plot- or character-driven, and the intimate stuff is a nice garnish. This book though…wow. The overall plot is OK, and the characters are interesting. But the level of heat throughout most of this book is incredible, and not even particularly explicit.

Oliver is quite a complex character – open about his sexuality in the off hours, but deeply closeted in a professional setting. Although we don’t get a whole lot of backstory on any of the characters in this book (maybe in the sequels?) we learn enough about Oliver to understand what makes him tick. Connor is more of a cipher, but that is by design. We learn about the werewolf society (Logan’s Court) bit by bit as Oliver does. One thing that is very clear – sex and sensuality are very much integral to the wolves and their interactions.

The world-building is nicely done here as well. This is a society where magic exists and is a fact of life. Dirty clothes are taken care of by laundry wards, and cocktails are served with anti-intoxication potions mixed in. At the same time, there are cars, computers, and cell phones. The setting is built organically – not a whole lot of exposition going on. This doesn’t always work for me, but it definitely fit in here. Also, although this is ostensibly a shifter story, very little of this plays into the plot except to define the different societies (and associated prejudices).

A large portion of the book is taken up by Oliver needing to pose as Connor’s consort to interview a key witness. As a plot device it’s a little flimsy, but the attraction, temptation, and intimate pas-de-deux between Connor and Oliver is hotter than hell and kept my attention throughout! The mystery is resolved nicely and while the ending is a bit unexpected (in a good way) it sets the stage for future stories, although this book is self-contained.

I liked this one a lot. Recommended!

(Side note: Ugh, that cover. I know I’m not the target demographic but that’s over the top. The way these guys are described, neither of them works out or does anything that would be necessary to maintain ridiculous chiseled abs like that. Ah well…)

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