Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School, #1)

By Gail Carriger

Rating: 4 stars

Sophronia Temminnick is too interested in climbing things (and people) and figuring out how things work for her mother, so she is packed away to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, much to Sophronia’s disgust. But things are not as they seem, and as well as learning to flutter her eyelashes at eligible gentlemen and how to execute the perfect curtsey, there’s also defence against vampires and werewolves, knife fighting, intelligence gathering, and more.

I found this book to be a whole lot of fun. It’s pretty lightweight and bubblegummy but there’s a lot to enjoy. I like Sophronia and her friends Dimity and Sidheag, and I liked that the older girl, Monique was demoted to the same level as the new entrants as punishment, something which also lets Carriger throw in some exposition about the world and the school in a fairly subtle manner.

Speaking of the school, I loved the idea behind it. It felt like some sort of steampunk Cloudbase or Helicarrier and felt both very steampunk and very decadent. Just the place that Mademoiselle Geraldine would have picked for her school.

Loads of fun, complete with the dirigibles that are de rigueur for steampunk and a very cute mechanical steam-powered pet dog. I’ll definitely be continuing with the series.

Book details

ISBN: 9780316190084
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Year of publication: 2013

Defender (League of Independent Operatives, #5)

By Kate Sheeran Swed

Rating: 4 stars

Finally! We get to see our heroes doing something other than bickering. As hoped, Sever’s invasion and destruction of LIO HQ spurs them into action. Admittedly, that action is initially to go and hide out with Wave. But once they regroup, we finally get our Avengers moment, as the combined force goes on the offensive.

There’s some nice character beats here, especially with Mary, who has matured an awful lot in the course of these books. She finds herself consoling one of the new recruits, and eventually moves into more of a mentoring role. We get plenty of Nathan as well, but, slightly disappointingly, no Jeff Hayes, who helped out a lot in the last book. He only gets a mention in passing here. I’d started to become quite fond of his sardonic humour.

Dolly has been quite an interesting character throughout. She’s a perfect example of everybody being the hero of their own story. Despite everything she’s done, she thinks she’s done nothing wrong and that if only she can get the Pearl Knife back, the world will worship her as a hero (and she’s willing to make them, if they don’t). I’m glad that Eloise got more of her dad’s personality than her mum’s!

I enjoyed this series quite a lot, despite some frustration with earlier books and characters making some really bad decisions. It was nice to get the big climax and have everyone play a role in that and see the lead up to that climax. I do enjoy a good superhero story, and Swed has created a very enjoyable world with the League of Independent Operatives.

Book details

Publisher: Spells & Spaceships Press

Nemesis (League of Independent Operatives, #4)

By Kate Sheeran Swed

Rating: 4 stars

In the penultimate book in the League of Independent Operatives series, LIO has got the Pearl Knife back, although Eloise is still too afraid of it to really use it, America has properly got its hate on for people with superpowers, and Thanos Sever finally turns up.

This one is mostly about America, or, at least, the American government, losing its collective head over people with superpowers, leading to a full on underground railroad to Canada, which Mary and the LIO stumble upon by accident and end up trying to help all these people escape. At the same time, Sever makes his way to Earth and runs into Dolly and the OG LIO who scheme to recover the Pearl Knife and take over the League again (while also planning on double-crossing Sever, because of course they are).

Despite being very focussed on the US, I was glad to see at least a passing reference to how other parts of the world are reacting to the US’s growing intolerance, particularly Germany’s outrage. Having been there once, they, at least, have learned from history, something that the US repeatedly fails to do. I mean, they even wear red armbands. It’s not exactly subtle!

After spending lots of books refusing to communicate, the various relationships here start to settle down, and we finally have a hope of seeing our Avengers moment where the bickering stops and everyone focusses on stopping the greater threat.

Swed is great at writing fast-paced, thrilling stories that keep you invested in the characters. I’m very much looking forward to them prodding serious buttock in the next, and final, book.

Book details

Publisher: Spells & Spaceships Press
Year of publication: 2021

Mastermind (League of Independent Operatives #3)

By Kate Sheeran Swed

Rating: 3 stars

After the events of the previous two books, Mary is welcomed back into the LIO fold, just as aliens steal the Pearl Knife. But Mary no longer trusts her instincts so refuses to join the hunt for it, preferring to remain in a support role back at HQ. Obviously this doesn’t go well.

In many ways, this third book in the series is quite frustrating. Partly that’s because it’s the middle book in the series, so it has to set up a lot of stuff for the rest of the series, but it also means that it can’t really offer much in the way of resolution.

One ongoing theme in these books is the way that people fail to talk to each other because they make assumptions about how the other person feels or thinks. This is a trope that I find very frustrating, but then the characters in this series tend to be fairly young. They’re still making the mistakes that will lead them to mature and become better people and angst fits well in that puzzle as well.

There’s also a strong fear of otherness theme through the EAEA. This is something we know well from the X-Men, where mutants are hated and feared. Here, the EAEA wants to start “registering” enhanced humans, and we all know where that leads, right? It does feel like it’s battering you over the head with that, but then we live in times where that’s the level of subtlety that we need.

For most of the book, I really didn’t feel that Sloan could be the sort of character who could be the protagonist of her own series. I found her irritating, incapable and lacking in any leadership quality. That starts to change towards the end of the book, and now I’m actually thinking that I might consider picking up the Parse Galaxy series.

I’m fully invested now though. I’m over half way, so unless the next book does something that makes me throw my Kindle across the room, I’m in for the long haul.

Book details

Amongst Our Weapons (Rivers of London, #9)

By Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb, I initially thought this was going to be a locked room murder – with a murder being perpetrated in the London Silver Vaults, but it turns out those (which are a real thing) have been opened up and turned into a shopping arcade, so the door was wide open. What we actually get is a thriller of a story as seven former prayer circle members, all with certain platinum rings, are being picked off, one by one. And yes, of course Peter makes the requisite Tolkien jokes.

Alongside the investigation, there are the elaborate preparations around Beverly’s pregnancy and the twins that she’s carrying. This gives us a different view into Lady Ty, now that she’s going to be an auntie. Less the terrifying political player and more, well, human. In a different way, that’s also true of DCI Seawoll, as the investigation takes the Met up to his home territory, around Manchester and we get to spend some time with him, and even his father.

Aaronovitch is slowly expanding his wizarding world. Peter is eager to deepen his US links, and expand them to the Continent as well, and re-establish the broken connections with the Sons of Weyland and bring their engineering expertise back into the Society of the Wise. Personally, that’s the sort of stuff that I’m more interested in. The crime-of-the-week in the book is there to drive these things, but isn’t as interesting to me as the world and the people in it. But after nine books, as many graphic novels and several novellas and short stories, I would imagine (and, indeed, hope) that I’ve come to care for the characters as people, not just mcguffin-solving machines.

The edition I read was the Waterstones one that has a short story included, Miroslav’s Fabulous Hand. This, along with a couple of references in the main book, shed new light on Nightingale’s chapter of Monday, Monday, the last graphic novel, and gives us the backstory to the pre-WW2 mission that Nightingale had been on when he was apprehended, as we see in that story.

Speaking of Nightingale, his announcement at the end made me sit up! It’ll be interesting to see what the implications of this are. I imagine it won’t stay secret for long, so I wonder how the demi-monde will react. And if it’ll have the effect on Peter that he wants.

So another really fun story in an evergreen series that I thoroughly enjoy. The one thing in the books that makes me uneasy is the black and white way that the Metropolitan Police is presented. They’re very much the Good Guys, swooping in to save the people of London from whatever befalls them. In the real world, the Met’s reputation is substantially more tarnished than that. Between corruption, institutional racism, servicing officers abusing and murdering women and the ongoing Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements, it’s disappointing that there’s not much referencing any of these.

Notwithstanding that, which I can understand – these are fairly fluffy books, and I can see why Aaronovitch might want to keep real world ugliness out of them – it was a whole lot of fun, and I look forward to the next one.

Book details

ISBN: 9781399603096
Publisher: Orion
Year of publication: 2022

Anti-Hero (League of Independent Operatives, #2)

By Kate Sheeran Swed

Rating: 3 stars

After the revelations of Alter Ego, Mary has left the League of Independent Operatives, and her budding romance with Nathan Pearce, behind and is dedicating her life to finding and capturing the “retired” members of the League, who she blames for her parents’ death. I found Mary much more difficult to like this time round. She’s closed in on herself, is completely on her own and is making worse and worse decisions. Like the decision to go rogue and hunt down the superpowered retirees wasn’t a bad one to start with. Even her AI assistant disapproves of how she’s capturing and imprisoning them without trial.

This book also introduces us to Nathan’s dysfunctional family (honestly, this lot should really have had family therapy after the whole tricked-into-delivering-a-bomb thing. But since they didn’t, it feels like Nathan’s sister, Chloe, is well on her way to being the next big bad for the series). We also get to see more of Eloise and her inability to control the Pearl Knife, leading to a doozy of a revelation.

Also, there were several chapters that seemed to be from a different book. Those were labelled “Sloane” and were somewhere in the Parse Galaxy. Since I know the author has written other books in that setting, I initially wondered if some chapters had ended up in the wrong book. But it comes together at the end. Although the snippets we get to see of Sloane and her crew don’t exactly enthuse me for the Parse Galaxy books, which seem to feature the same characters.

I wanted to throw the book across the room a couple of times here, usually at Mary doing something stupid or stubborn. I honestly don’t understand why she tried to attack Nathan after the encounter with The Trap. And her later change of heart. It didn’t really seem to fit to me.

It was interesting to see some of the “retirees” from LIO though, and their powers. Nothing particularly unique, but interesting nonetheless. We don’t really get much characterisation for any of them, other than The Trap, but it contrasts well with Nathan’s visits to LIO’s prison and getting to know some of the prisoners there, and showing their humanity.

This one doesn’t even pretend to conclude anything and ends on a massive cliffhanger. I’m intrigued enough to read the next in series though.

Book details

Publisher: Spells & Spaceships Press
Year of publication: 2020

Alter Ego (League of Independent Operatives #1)

By Kate Sheeran Swed

Rating: 4 stars

Our protagonist in this superhero story is basically a gender-swapped Batman. A billionaire playgirl, complete with dead parents, lots of cool gadgets and tech, and no powers. When her parents are killed, a secret group of superheroes takes Mary O’Sullivan in and raises her. Now, she’s struggling to fit in with the League of Independent Operatives and after breaking protocol one too many times (this time to bring in a young woman with powers, after saving her from her father), she’s sent to cool off for a while in her other life.

We mostly alternative between the PoV of Mary, and Eloise, aka the Pearl Knife, and (newish) head of the League, after having both the Knife and the position passed down by her mother. Mary is frustrated by the way the Eloise is handling the League, thinking her to be too rule-bound to get things done. Eloise worries Mary is flighty and does things without thinking. Both are right, but they don’t talk about it with each other, which leads to conflict, especially when a terrorist organisation, thought to be long defunct, returns.

I eyeroll a bit these days over the “flouncing off rather than talking to each other” trope which is prominent here, but it’s a good way to drive the plot, even if I do want to yell at them to just phone each other. The third protagonist is Nathan Pearce, a police officer with no powers, who’s obsessed with independent operators and who has serious chemistry with Mary. Hormones make people do stupid things, and there was more eyerolling involved in almost every scene these two had together.

But despite all the eyerolling, the book does hold up well. Mary, Eloise and Nathan are all likeable characters, and there’s some exciting action sequences. I had thought it was going to be a pretty bog-standard superhero story, but there’s actually a neat twist near the end which I hadn’t seen coming and which I enjoyed.

One thing to note is that the book definitely isn’t self-contained and ends without much in the way of resolution. But I’ll be definitely reading the next book in the series.

Book details

Publisher: Spells & Spaceships Press

The Bronzed Beasts

By Roshani Chokshi

Rating: 4 stars

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t really have that high expectations of this after the other two books in the series, but I think it may have been my favourite of them. Despite a huge eye-roll at the way the last book ended, this one picks it up and runs with it. Séverin appeared to betray his friends and ran away with Ruslan, the patriarch of the Fallen House to become a god, but he left a secret message with Laila, which she immediately destroyed after waking up, in a fit of pique. So now his friends don’t have the clues he left them.

Of course, they figure it out anyway and the story is mostly Séverin trying to redeem himself against the anger of Laila and Enrique; Hypnos was all too willing to forgive, and Zofia understands what he was trying to do. So after the gang gets back together Séverin spends most of the time (when he’s not smugly solving mysteries) making big puppy dog eyes at the others.

The big bad didn’t really feel all that much of a threat, the main plot driver was the quest to find the maguffin (it’s no less a maguffin for being a location rather than an object). There’s some great sequences en route (I think the big wall on the island, after the lake was my favourite) but it didn’t really feel to me that the characters got that much development. Poor Hypnos, once again, gets hardly any time in his head (although he did get at least one PoV chapter this time) despite being one of the more interesting of the group. Laila is mostly just angry and brooding, and a driver of the plot rather than an active participant. As usual, Zofia and Enrique were great fun (is anyone else getting a bit of a Parker and Hardison from Leverage vibe from them?), although there was no single moment as great as Zofia on the glass stag from the last book.

The ending was interesting and somewhat unexpected. Other reviewers didn’t like it at all, but I didn’t actually mind it too much. It definitely had more melancholy than I was expecting, but still, a good conclusion to the series. I don’t think it’s one I’ll reread but I don’t regret my time spent with it, and it went out on a high.

Book details

ISBN: 9781250144614
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Year of publication: 2022

The Grief of Stones (The Cemeteries of Amalo, #2)

By Katherine Addison

Rating: 4 stars

Like its predecessor, The Grief of Stones starts with Thara Celehar called to give witness to a murder, but although that murder sets a number of things in motion, it’s not really the core of the story, and, indeed, is resolved under a third of the way through. But that gets us involved with the foundling school and what comes next.

The book does throw you right in, expecting you to keep up, without any gentle reminders as to who the people surrounding Celehar are. A dramatis personae would have been nice, or a sentence when the character is (re)introduced reminding us who they are and their connection with Celehar. The other issue I had with this book is that, unlike The Witness for the Dead, by the end, it felt like Celehar’s story is incomplete. I put down Witness happy that I’d seen him start to come out of his grief and live a life again, whereas here, I’m left sort of dissatisfied, as one chapter of his life appears to have closed, but there’s a huge amount of uncertainty as to what happens next. If it’s the symptom of the middle volume of a trilogy, that’s okay, but it’s not clear if it is or not.

Other than that, there’s a lot to enjoy here. As well as dealing with his duties, Celehar is sent an apprentice to train, which is fun, as he has no idea how to do it, but they muddle along. Tomasaran joins a growing circle of friends around Celehar (and Addison continues to tease us as to whether Pel-Thenhior remains in that category or somewhat closer), helping heal someone who at one point thought he was beyond help.

It’s a difficult book to give a score to, really. It depends on whether this is the final time we’ll meet Celehar, or if Addison plans to continue his story. If it’s the end of his story, then I found it dissatisfying, but if it’s just a pause, then it’s a perfectly reasonable place to wait. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.

Book details

ISBN: 9781786187444
Publisher: Solaris
Year of publication: 2022

Powered by WordPress