I adore Christina Henry’s Chronicles of Alice, as you can see in my reviews of Alice and Red Queen. Though I enjoy her other fairy tale retellings as well, Alice has always been my favorite. So I was extremely excited to hear that a third book, Looking Glass, was in the works. Looking Glass rounds out the story of Alice and Hatcher completely and gives them the ending they deserve.
Publisher’s Description: IN FOUR NOVELLAS, CHRISTINA HENRY RETURNS TO THE WORLD OF ‘ALICE’ AND ‘RED QUEEN’, WHERE MAGIC RUNS AS FREELY AS SECRETS AND BLOOD.
In the New City lives a girl with a secret: Elizabeth can do magic. But someone knows her secret – someone who has a secret of his own. That secret is a butterfly that was supposed to be gone forever; a butterfly that used to be called the Jabberwock. . .
GIRL IN AMBER
Alice and Hatcher are just looking for a place to rest. Alice has been dreaming of a cottage by a lake and a field of wildflowers, but while walking blind in a snowstorm she stumbles into a house that only seems empty and abandoned. . .
WHEN I FIRST CAME TO TOWN
Hatcher wasn’t always Hatcher. Once, he was a boy called Nicholas, and Nicholas fancied himself the best fighter in the Old City. No matter who fought him he always won. Then his boss tells him he’s going to battle the fearsome Grinder, a man who never leaves his opponents alive. . .
THE MERCY SEAT
There is a place hidden in the mountains, where all the people hate and fear magic and Magicians. It is the Village of the Pure, and though Alice and Hatcher would do anything to avoid it, it lies directly in their path. . .
Invested Ivana says…
Story: There are four novellas in Looking Glass that make for perfect bookends to the Chronicles of Alice.
When I First Came To Town is a flashback story of Hatcher’s past, giving the reader a sense of who was before and how he became to be Hatcher. Lovely Creature gives the reader a sense of what happened to Alice to land her in the hospital where she met Hatcher.
Then Girl in Amber and Mercy Seat wrap up the story of Alice and Hatcher, bringing them to their (what we assume is) a happy ending.
As with Alice and Red Queen, the story is mesmerizingly horrible and beautiful at once. The voice in which Henry paints Alice’s twisted world is, in contrast, sweet and innocent. That contrast is what makes the story feel like a magical, misty fairy tale – lovely and dark at the same time.
Narration: Jenny Sterlin’s performance perfectly captures that sweet, innocent voice that makes this series so fascinating. I don’t believe I’ve listened to any of Sterlin’s other audiobook performances, but I have Sorcerer To The Crown on my TBR list, so I just might listen to that one soon. She is an amazing performer.
Gildart Jackson narrates Hatcher’s story perfectly, bringing to it that same sense of innocence as Alice has along with helping of young male bravado. Jackson already has my devotion as the voice of Alex Verus, of course. He’s a fantastic performer with a huge catalog of audiobooks and does a fantastic job in every one that I’ve heard.
Overall: I’m so glad to have this book as part of the Chronicles of Alice. Seeing both the character’s origins and their story’s ending makes the tale feel complete. Stories told in that beautifully dark way aren’t all that common, so I treasure the ones I find.
I’m super excited to be going back into the world of Kitty Norville for these stories about Kitty’s friends — bounty hunter, Cormac, and his witch partner Amelia, and the vampire Rick, Conquistador de la Noche and Master of Denver.
Title: Dark Divide and Badlands Witch
Author: Carrie Vaughn
Series: set in the world of Kitty Norville
Publish Date: January 28, 2020, Tantor Media
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Narrator: Neil Hellegers
Publisher’s Description: In brand-new stories spun off from the New York Times Bestselling Kitty Norville series, dark mysteries push the bounds of sanity. Cormac Bennett, ex-con and former bounty hunter, is a paranormal investigator with an edge: his partner is the disembodied spirit of a Victorian wizard, Amelia Parker. Together, they solve problems no one else can.
In Dark Divide, they’re asked to investigate a mysterious death in the Sierra Nevadas: a man died of hunger —in a cabin that was fully stocked with provisions. The kicker? The cabin is located near Donner Pass, the site of the gruesomely ill-fated Donner Party, where forty men, women, and children died of exposure and starvation. The event was made famous by reports of cannibalism among the survivors. Is the Donner site haunted? Is some evil force rising again after a hundred fifty years to wreak destruction? Can Cormac and Amelia learn the truth without being caught in the web? Well, they can try…
In Badlands Witch, Cormac and Amelia travel to South Dakota, where an archeologist has hired them to examine an artifact for possible magical qualities. Cormac is skeptical, Amelia is intrigued. And it turns out – the whole thing is a trap. Cormac used to make his living killing monsters, and he made more than a few enemies back in the day. Who from his past is out for revenge, and can he and Amelia survive?
These stories are published separately as Kindle novellas but together in audio.
Title: Immortal Conquistador
Author: Carrie Vaughn
Series: set in the world of Kitty Norville
Publish Date: April 28, 2020, Tantor Media
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Narrator: Neil Hellegers
Publisher’s Description: From Carrie Vaughn, author of the beloved Kitty Norville werewolf talk-show host series, comes the vampire origin story of Kitty’s famed ally, Rick-and his sudden turn to darkness in the seventeenth century.
More than 500 years before his friendship with Kitty, noble Ricardo de Avila’s life met a fate-changing twist, and his morally-complex, blood-soaked existence as an immortal began. Before being turned, Ricardo de Avila would have followed Coronado to the ends of the earth. Instead he found the end of his mortal life-and a new one, as a renegade vampire. For over five hundred years as an immortal, Ricardo has followed his own moral code, upsetting the established order in the demon world. He has protected his found family from marauding evil, joined up with a legendary gunslinger, tended bar, appointed himself the Master of Denver, and discovered a church buried under the Vatican. The life of a vampire is frequently long, but for Rick, it is never easy.
Invested Ivana says…
Story: In Dark Divide and Badlands Witch, we get to know more about Ben’s cousin, Cormac, and Cormac’s partner, the 19th-century witch, Amelia, who hitched a ride in his head while he was in prison. Since Cormac can no longer pursue his career as a bounty hunter, he and Amelia start investigating paranormal events and, of course, find lots of trouble.
I enjoy their adventures very much. The contrast in their voices and perspectives is interesting, and seeing the incredibly closed-off Cormac from inside his own head is enlightening. He’s a tough nut to crack in Kitty’s stories, and though he’s a beloved character, readers don’t really get to know him. Seeing him open up in these stories, even if it’s because he doesn’t have a choice to do otherwise, is a cool bit of character development.
I couldn’t help myself, though. Everyone once in a while as I was reading, I had to whisper to myself, “back in bowl” the way Richard Libertini says it in All of Me (1984). Yeah, I know. I’m old and that’s an old reference. But oh, so appropriate.
The Immortal Conquistador is both a flashback novel and forward character development for Rick, the reluctant vampire. He’s another interesting character in Kitty’s world—which, in all honesty, is filled with interesting characters. Readers get to follow Rick through periods in history as he contemplates his origins and how they made him the perfect agent for a secret papal army fighting the supernatural baddies of the world.
I really enjoyed this novel, but it also left me with more questions. This novel didn’t tell us how Rick came to be a part of the Denver group of vampires after he refused to do so several times over (though it’s been a while since I read the Kitty series, and if it’s told there, I forget). Also, will we see more of Rick in his new role as a Vatican-sanctioned vampire? Perhaps pursuing the new information we learned about Dux Bellorum? I’d read that for sure. Maybe the upcoming October release, Kitty’s Mix Tape, will touch on some of these.
And as long as I’m asking, how about a novel about Odessus Grant, the magician Kitty meets in Vegas with the magic box behind which I like to imagine the Old Gods lurks? I am super curious about his character and would love to learn more about him.
Narration: I am pleasantly surprised by the narration by Neil Hellegers, not having heard him before. I wasn’t sure at first if Hellegers sounded like Cormac to me, but as with any new narrator, it just took me time to align the character and the voice in my head. I see Hellegers narrates the Black Magic Outlaw series by Domino Finn, which is in my TBR list, and J.P. Sloan’s Dark Choir series, which I’ve read and reviewed but not heard, so I’ll have to pull those out soon.
Overall: I think I would read any story set in Kitty’s world, whether it was about Kitty or her many interesting acquaintances. Vaughn has created a rich world full of magic and mayhem that could support thousands of stories. Sign me up for all of them!
Back in Dec of 2016 and March of 2017, I reviewed two books in a then-new series by Richard Knaak– Black City Saint and Black City Demon. But before I could read Black City Dragon, the third book in the series, I experienced some life and job changes, and my mode of reading went from mainly ebooks to mainly audio. So I was excited to see the two books come out in audio recently. With them, I’m going to launch a new feature called Listen Up! specifically for reviewing audiobooks.
Publisher’s Description: For more than sixteen hundred years, Nick Medea has followed and guarded the Gate that keeps the mortal realm and that of Feirie separate, seeking in vain absolution for the fatal errors he made when he slew the dragon. All that while, he has tried and failed to keep the woman he loves from dying over and over.
Yet in the fifty years since the Night the Dragon Breathed over the city of Chicago, the Gate has not only remained fixed, but open to the trespasses of the Wyld, the darkest of the Feiriefolk. Not only does that mean an evil resurrected from Nick’s own past, but the reincarnation of his lost Cleolinda, a reincarnation destined once more to die.
Nick must turn inward to that which he distrusts the most: the Dragon, the beast he slew when he was still only Saint George. He must turn to the monster residing in him, now a part of him…but ever seeking escape.
The gang war brewing between Prohibition bootleggers may be the least of his concerns. If Nick cannot prevent an old evil from opening the way between realms…then not only might Chicago face a fate worse than the Great Fire, but so will the rest of the mortal realm.
Publisher’s Description: Since he became the guardian of the Gate between our world and Feirie sixteen hundred years ago, Nick Medea, once Saint George, has battled to keep the darkest Feirie–the Wyld–from invading the mortal plane. With the dragon an unwilling part of him, Nick maintains balance between realms, often at great cost to him and those nearest to him.
Nick and his ragtag confederates—including the shape-shifter Fetch and Nick’s reincarnated love, Claryce—have battled the Wyld, but not mortals as sinister as the darkest Feirie. Now, with Prohibition in full swing and bootlegger wars embattling Chicago, a murderous evil born of the mortal world has turned its attention to the power of the Gate… and Nick himself.
Nick must turn again to his most untrustworthy ally: the dragon within. Yet even together they may not be enough to face what was once a man… but is now a creature even dragons may fear.
Invested Ivana says…
Story: The Black City Saint series is set in Prohibition-Era Chicago, so any fan of that era will find plenty to like. It is an urban fantasy that mixes detective noir, a dash of Christian mythology, and a dark, gritty version of Feirie.
The main character, Nick Medea, is ostensibly a ghost breaker, but the reader sees him more often in his guise as Keeper of the Gate between the mortal world and the world of Feirie. He’s centuries old, a loner, grumpy as hell, and a downright ass sometimes. He has a huge backstory and has collected around himself a cast of very interesting human and non-human characters. His job is to keep the mortal world safe from Feirie incursions, which are sometimes small and sometimes huge.
Nick’s personal conflicts come from his own suspicious nature, his inability to forgive his own murderer, and the reincarnating soul of the love of his life, a princess whom he once rescued and who is now determined to rescue him.
The main book plots and the backstories of the characters are very engaging and leave me wanting to know more. The plot, or maybe the action, can feel a bit complex sometimes. I did find myself re-listening to parts of the story to be clear on what was happening. Overall, though, I found it to be a lot of fun.
Narration: Joshua Saxon narrates with a deep, gritty voice that is perfect for the genre and for Nick Medea. He uses several accents, which helps a lot in differentiating the characters. In fact, in the second book, one of the character voices changes a bit, taking on a more cultured accent and voice than in the first book, which is actually helpful for distinguishing the character, so I appreciate the change.
I do wish his female voices were differentiated a bit more. There are really only two female characters in this story, and while it’s clear Saxon is trying to make their voices distinctive, they weren’t really that different than Nick’s voice. It wasn’t too difficult to tell when these two characters were speaking based on their speech patterns alone, but I did find myself wishing for a bit more vocal variation.
I would say this book is narrated rather than performed, but the narration is good, and I’ll be checking out other books narrated by Saxon.
Overall: Overall, I’m very happy with the experience of these audiobooks and would recommend them to fans of the genre. I’m very much looking forward to Black City Dragon coming out in audio.
By the time I was introduced to the Lady Trent series (thank you, Agent Annie!), it was complete, and I devoured the series as a whole rather than one book at a time. So I will be reviewing it as a whole series. The TL:DR version of my review is that I love it!
- A Natural History of Dragons, 01
- The Tropic of Serpents, 02
- The Voyage of the Basilisk, 03
- From the Editorial Page of the Falchester Weekly Review, 03.5
- In the Labyrinth of Drakes, 04
- Within the Sanctuary of Wings, 05
Description: Set in an alternate world much like our own during the nineteenth century, the Memoirs of Lady Trent is a five-book series chronicling the adventures and discoveries of Isabella, Lady Trent, renowned dragon naturalist.
Invested Ivana says…
I have listened to this series now twice and just adore it.
The series is set in a fantasy version of our own world somewhere in the Victorian era. The elderly Isabella, Lady Trent, is writing her memoirs to answer questions about the more personal nature of her adventures and to set the record straight on certain rumors that have been spread about her and about a few politically-driven lies she’s had to tell in the past.
Since the stories are told by Isabella later in life, she has the advantage of being brutally honest about her own behavior and the societal norms she broke in pursuit of her work. Her self-reflection makes the stories very personal and even more entertaining. It reminded me about the times I would listen to my grandmother tell stories about when she was young and did things I could never imagine my grandmother doing. She seemed quite outrageous, but the stories deepened my understanding of and connection to her.
In contrast to the feminine stereotype of the time, Isabella is an intellectual, driven to study the nature and biology of dragons and dragon-esque species. Being a natural historian is not a proper pastime for a gentle-born lady, and so to continue her work, she must buck tradition constantly. She is criticized for everything, from the way she dresses, parents her son, and travels without an escort in the company of men to the way she submits her work to traditionally-male scholarly societies and supports other women in their scholarly pursuits. Even so, we see Isabella persist in finding her own happiness, both intellectual and personal. That makes her a good role model for our own world.
Each book centers around one of her famous adventures to a different part of the globe, and during each adventure, what she discovers that furthers her understanding of dragons. I love the fact that each book introduces us to a new culture, a new way of living, and a new way of thinking.
Each book also focuses on the relationships Lady Trent forms, both with her countrymen and those in the places she visits. These relationships influence so much of Lady Trent’s thinking and choices that, over the course of the series, which covers many years, we see Isabella grow from the child we are introduced to initially to the matron who is telling the story. I love seeing characters grow and develop from their experiences, so I find this part of the series very satisfying.
Unfortunately, Isabella often stumbles into tense political situations during her travels, which doesn’t help her reputation at all. While she sometimes exacerbates the situation, she is often a means of addressing the conflict as well. She introduces a very chaotic element into the highly-controlled Victorian British aesthetic of the time. That contrast makes for some delightful story conflict.
In some ways, I think listening to the audio version of these books is an advantage. Kate Reading, the narrator, is fantastic. Between this series and the Athena Club series, I listened to her voice regularly for a couple of months. She does an amazing job of bringing each character to life. Also, as a listener, I don’t have to stumble over the pronunciation of any of the place or character names in the story.
The one disadvantage of the audio, though, is missing out on the art of Todd Lockwood, which appears throughout the book as maps and sketches Lady Trent makes as part of her scientific study. It adds a lot to the story to see the artwork. I purchased both the audio and Kindle versions of these books in order to see the art, but I believe these would be beautiful books to have in hardcover as part of a fantasy art collection. Perhaps there will someday be a pictorial reference to the dragons of Lady Trent’s world that can keep my Art of Pern books company.
If, like me, you aren’t quite ready to leave Isabella’s world behind, you’re in luck. First, Uncanny Magazine has made a short story available free on their website. The story is a speech given by Jacob, Isabella’s son, to the congregation of the Langley Square First Nakhonian Assembly-House during his coming-of-age ceremony. It is quite entertaining. It’s called On The Impurity of Dragon-Kind.
Second, Brennan has just published a new book in the same world, told from the viewpoint of Lady Trent’s granddaughter. It’s called Turning Darkness Into Light. I just picked up the audio today and will be listening to it and reviewing it very soon.
This is the first of Brennan’s series I’ve read, though I’ve known about her as an author for a while. I’ll certainly be checking out some of her others now. Warrior and Witch have been on my TBR for years, and I’ve heard really good things about her Onyx Court series. I’m so impressed by the Lady Trent series that I imagine I’ve been missing out on some good stuff.
So, if you are a fan of dragons, of Victorian history, of natural history, or of women bucking tradition and getting the last laugh, be sure to check out this series. It won’t disappoint.
The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club series by Theodora Goss has quickly become one of my favorites, particularly in audio. In fact, when I finished the second book, the third was still two months away from publication! But I wasn’t ready to leave Goss’s world, and I struggled to settle on another book. Eventually, I went back to the Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan because 1) it is also a Victorian-era tale about the power of women, and 2) it is also narrated by Kate Reading, who is a phenomenal voice performer. But as I write this review, I am counting the days until October 1 when the third book in the series, The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl, is available.
Title: European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman
Author: Theodora Goss
Series: Book 02, The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club
Publish Date: July 10, 2018, Simon & Schuester
Genre: Historical fantasy, historical mystery
Narrator: Kate Reading
Publisher’s Description: Mary Jekyll’s life has been peaceful since she helped Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson solve the Whitechapel Murders. Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, Justine Frankenstein, and Mary’s sister Diana Hyde have settled into the Jekyll household in London, and although they sometimes quarrel, the members of the Athena Club get along as well as any five young women with very different personalities. At least they can always rely on Mrs. Poole.
But when Mary receives a telegram that Lucinda Van Helsing has been kidnapped, the Athena Club must travel to the Austro-Hungarian Empire to rescue yet another young woman who has been subjected to horrific experimentation. Where is Lucinda, and what has Professor Van Helsing been doing to his daughter? Can Mary, Diana, Beatrice, and Justine reach her in time?
Racing against the clock to save Lucinda from certain doom, the Athena Club embarks on a madcap journey across Europe. From Paris to Vienna to Budapest, Mary and her friends must make new allies, face old enemies, and finally confront the fearsome, secretive Alchemical Society. It’s time for these monstrous gentlewomen to overcome the past and create their own destinies.
Possible spoilers beyond this point.
Invested Ivana says…
In this second installment of adventures, we again see the ladies of the Athena Club come together to save a young woman from the mad “scientific” designs of her father. Only this time, they have to travel to distant lands to do it. Along the way, they put themselves at risk not only to save the girl but to make greater strides in preventing further abuse in the name of science.
The elements I appreciated about the first book in the series are still here—the way this family of women supports one another and the way they are sacrificing to protect others. As a fan of fantasy, literature, history, and culture, I adore all those elements that Goss brings into the story as well—riding the Orient Express, traveling with a Victorian circus, exploring foreign and exotic lands. I am particularly enamored of the coffeehouse in Budapest. I fear I would be as greedy as Diana in that environment, wanting to sample all its flavorful offerings.
The repetition of specific phrases or story elements persists, but I feel it happens less often. It doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story.
Again, I struggle to find new ways to say how much I love this book. I’m already heavily invested in the characters and their world and am finding the wait for the next book, as I’m sure I will find the wait between books three and four, to be excruciating.
Books in this series