Jumpdrives & Cantrips


End of Summer

Well, around here the leaves are falling, it’s getting blustery, and things are starting to smell crisp again. I love fall because all the colours start changing around and it’s great weather to curl up with a book or a movie–so is winter, but it’s nice to go out and not partly freeze at the same time.

In any case, here are a few tidbits that I’ve happened upon lately:

  • Neil Gaiman is on tour doing readings of The Graveyard Book; sadly he can’t be everywhere his fans are. The wonderful bit of news here is that he’s posting readings of the chapters one by one in order and you can catch them over at Mouse Circus. Not too shabby!
  • Kelly Link‘s 2005 collection, Magic For Beginners, and her first collection, Stranger Things Happen, are now both available for download as free reads via Jelly Ink Press. Revel in the words here for the former, and here for the latter!
  • Patricia Briggs fans may want to check out a preview of the Mercy Thompson graphic novel by Dabel Brothers. Also, the series has been optioned for film (no word on actual production) and Ace Books will release her novella “Alpha and Omega” in electronic format so you don’t need to buy a whole collection just to read it (very good news in my opinion). See for yourself over at Hurog.com.
  • If you’re into epic SF and human-alien relations, take a look at Michael R. Hicks‘ self-published book In Her Name. He offers an excerpt of the first four chapters to tickle your fancy, which other reviewers have certainly enjoyed (Fantasy Book Critic being one of them–review here).

I’ve managed to finally get my hands on a few books I’ve been waiting for in the last little while, so it’s likely you’ll see a review of at least one in the coming week…

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Cry Wolf
September 13, 2008, 1024
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , , , ,

Cry WolfFollowing up a novella with a novel continuing the story and managing to hit the NYT Bestseller’s List at the same time is no small feat. That is exactly what Patricia Briggs does in Cry Wolf, the first book in a spin-off series set in the same world as her popular Mercedes Thompson books. Despite the travails of figuring out how to write a novel after a novella, this volume still presents an entertaining story that promises a series with a subtly different and subversive take on the werewolves found so commonly in urban fantasy.

Cry Wolf picks up where “Alpha and Omega” leaves off (you can read it in the collection On the Prowl; see my review here), though gives some small amount of back story. That said, reading the novella first would probably improve perspective on both character development and the unique twists Briggs offers in her heroine, Anna. Anna is an unwilling werewolf recently rescued from an abusive pack by Charles, the son and enforcer of the most powerful alpha werewolf in North America. She must now deal with both her own history, her new relationship with Charles, and being a rare omega werewolf, who tempers the violent natures of dominant wolves. Charles’ serious wounds necessitate her presence to calm him, but soon she finds herself trying to adjust to newfound independence and assisting in Charles’ search for a rogue werewolf in the back country of Montana.

This series in particular edges more into the realm of romantic fiction than the Mercedes Thompson books. We get to see much of Anna and Charles emotional interactions and a chance for some insight into werewolf psyches. Briggs’ writing in this volume places a central focus on character interactions at the beginning of the novel, though begins to slip into a more action-oriented tone towards the latter portion of the book. In fact, the action hits all at once when the characters realise it’s not just a rogue werewolf, but a different brand of ancient evil at the pack’s back door. Though the action struggles to maintain balance with the character depth encountered earlier on, it’s still nothing that upsets the book’s rhythm. The abrupt plot change lacks enough surrounding foreshadowing and lead-in events that it seemed like an easy way to Make Things Happen.

The ending also gave me pause since the post-action wrap up lasts a page and a half, yet several life-altering events occur for Anna. As a reader I felt cheated of the characters’ experiences, and I liken it to reading a series of “begats”from the Bible, where the writing became a list of things that happened next. Despite the sudden change in character importance with suddenly relevant pasts, and having a whirlwind ending, Cry Wolf remains a satisfying read.

Even with these faults Cry Wolf stands out since Patricia Briggs brings deeper themes to the table, infusing Anna and Charles’ story with meaning beyond themselves. Though certainly not all, a large chunk of urban fantasy on the shelves seems designed mostly for action and character entanglements, but lacks a means to connect to readers on a more intimate level. This is where Briggs’ writing excelled for me, more so than any of the Mercy Thompson books.

One of the themes in the book is acceptance and negotiation; of the self, of others, and of events. Werewolves must reach some sort of acceptance after experiencing the change in order to negotiate co-existence between their human and their “wolf” sides. While this creates a dichotomy between human and wolf (and the natural, or arguably the supernatural), the importance of merging these separate aspects resonated with me. And just as these two inner aspects must balance out, so must the social roles of werewolves–dominants and submissives. However, using the idea of alphas and omegas in hand with the socio-political pack structure allows Briggs to create that same brand of negotiation found on an individual psychological level. This draws the individual and the societal together in order to create links between characters and their social setting through deft structure in the story, and creates a greater sense of the importance of pack life.

While Cry Wolf isn’t a perfect book (what book is?) its faults were obscured by the emotional impact and meaning present in the story itself. Any writer can put together a werewolf story, but not that many of them can do it in a way that makes you suspend disbelief with ease and become truly involved with the characters. Patricia Briggs does it, and does it well. Now comes the hard part: waiting for the sequel.

Briggs, Patricia. Cry Wolf. New York: Ace Books, 2008. 294 pages. $8.99 (Canadian), paperback.



Iron Kissed
February 11, 2008, 2314
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , ,

Iron KissedPatricia Briggs is an amazing writer: not one of her books has been a dud (granted, I did not read her first novel, Masques, but none of the others have been duds), and each one steadily improves upon the last. Her Mercy Thompson series is no different. And this series has spent substantial time on the New York Times Bestseller list, with a spin-off series in the works. No surprise there, as urban fantasy seems to be the “subgenre du jour” and getting a lot of attention because of it.

In Iron Kissed, our favourite coyote shape-shifting VW mechanic enters the Walla Walla Fae Reservation after her mentor Zee secures her help to find a murderer amongst the Fae community. When the murderer is found violently killed by inhuman means with Zee on the scene, Mercy feels obliged to clear her friend’s name. While dealing with human anti-Fae groups and immortal Fae Lords who don’t take well to curious coyotes, Mercy also must juggle her relationship woes. After all, it’s not easy having two extremely dominant, territorial alpha werewolves vying for her love.

If I have one complaint about this book, it’s that the love triangle is handled somewhat anticlimactically. That said, it is refreshing to see Mercy have the chance to be self-aware enough to analyze her feelings without a) both relationships going to pot and b) having a massive possessive werewolf love showdown. If Patricia Briggs is exceptional at one thing with urban fantasy, it’s taking the genre expectations and looking at them from another perspective. Having the relationship issue decided is a relief in the series, and it will be nice to have a character that can move on to other worries.

There is no end of worries for our heroine, who already had panic attacks relating to the trauma she suffered at the hands of vampires and demons in the previous novel. Near the end of the story a character violates Mercy so completely that it is a wonder she doesn’t go to pieces permanently. Since this is the third book, it makes you wonder how much worse things can get by the time the seventh book rolls around (Briggs is currently contracted for a total of seven Mercedes Thompson books according to her site). This part of the story is handled in a sensitive and honest manner, which impressed me. It’s not often a character’s emotional and thought processes unfold so organically and as deftly as Briggs does with Mercy.

Iron Kissed has a lot of history from the previous two books in the series influencing it, so while it’s possible to read as a stand-alone, there are subtle things that get glossed over without context. But then, I’ve never really been able to start in the middle of a series without being a little cranky about it. Readers of the other two books will notice a notable absence of vampires in this book. This makes me curious what the league of bloodsuckers will do next, as I’m pretty certain they’ll play a central role in the next book.

It’s unfortunate that Iron Kissed flows so naturally from the page; this makes it a quick read, and one that I didn’t want to put down once it finished.

Briggs, Patricia. Iron Kissed. New York: Ace Books, 2008. 287 pages. $10.99 (Canadian).



On The Prowl
February 9, 2008, 2343
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , , ,

On The Prowl

I’m not really sure what possessed me to pick this one up; I hit my limit about three months back for the majority of urban vampire-werewolf-faerie-whatever paranormal-ish fantasy. My weakness in this case is Patricia Briggs, simply because she writes so darn well. Prior to this collection of novellas, I hadn’t read any of the other authors listed on the book. Let me indulge my honesty for a moment: I probably never will again.

Patricia Briggs’ entry is a story set in the Mercedes Thompson world, where Mercy is a shapeshifting mechanic. The story “Alpha and Omega” leads into her new extension of the series, which follows Charles, an alpha werewolf who is his father’s go-to guy to deal with problems in the pack, be it local or otherwise. Charles is there to investigate Anna, a female werewolf asking for help, finding that she is abused by a Chicago pack. This only reveals more questions about the pack’s leader and Charles begins to suspect that Anna is something rare and powerful within the pack. This story was the highlight of the collection, with wonderful characterization and a tightly drawn plot. Patricia Briggs subverts the masculine, savage hierarchy overused in werewolf mythos to offer a powerful figure in opposition to the norm. I can’t wait to see what happens in Cry Wolf with Anna and Charles.

Just to warn you–if you ever plan to read the other three stories, I’m not sure I can fully refrain from spoilers. Mind you, if you are a fan of the following authors, you might not be so thrilled with my opinions anyhow. If you’re good with that, then please, read on.

Eileen Wilks’ “Inhuman” was a decently written piece that just didn’t excite me. The story follows Kai & Nathan, who seem to be characters from an existing series. Their relationship is one of the few good points of the story, but the plotting is clumsy, uninteresting, and downright provokes my “WTF?!” response. The lovers are angst-filled not-yet-lovers, then become lovers, then are threatened by a horrible monster, then the big revelation about Kai hits when the monster is neutralized. Of course, the lovers have complicating circumstances: Kai is a telepath who controls peoples’ wills, but doesn’t know that until the monster comes along, and Nathan is a hellhound (yes, a hellhound. I don’t know why the author made this particular decision, and I’m not sure I want to). Of course, then the Winter Queen and Master of the Hunt from the land of Faery descend to sort things out and lay down the Law of the Wild Sidhe. Do you see why I have problems with this plot?

Moving on, a story that started out so nicely: “Buying Trouble” by Karen Chance. This one is about Claire, a magical neutralizer who ends up on the auction block to be sold by her employer, the auctioneer. She has spunk, she pulls the interest in the story, and she argues with a Fey Lord who later helps her escape. Of course, he is attracted, she is attracted, they are hiding from the enemy, and in the midst of consummation– POOF!! She turns into a dragon! She turns into a… dragon?! Okay, come on now. This was going so well, and then you go and make her a dragon? Right, well, moving along. My secondary complaint is Chance’s prose is poorly constructed and does not flow. If neither stop-and-start plot, nor mediocre writing bother you, you just may enjoy the story.

The last entry of the collection about did it for me. I nearly tossed the book across the room out of frustration. Sunny gives us “Mona Lisa Betwining” with the characters from her Mona Lisa series and a demon getting spun off into her own series. The plot is useless. It doesn’t matter, it’s so cliche and just plain bad. This is a story about gratuitous sex involving werewolf-like shapeshifters and demons. But just as people watch a trainwreck or a car collision because they are mesmerized, it was so horrible I couldn’t tear my eyes away. The big sex scene is not enjoyable, but laughable. Sunny hands us some whoppers in the purple prose department, and some descriptions that just make me want to cringe. I’d quote them, but I’m not sure I want to propagate that sort of thing any more than I need to. Suffice it to say that no one’s penis needs to be compared to a tree towering over brush, nor do I want a precise description of a man’s testicles smacking into our heroine’s rear end during a particularly vigourous moment. There may well be people out there who want that brand of descriptive writing (in fact, I’m sure there is, because it wouldn’t be around otherwise) and that’s fine; I just don’t see the appeal.

Can you see why I might want to toss the thing across the room? After “Alpha and Omega” everything was just downhill. I highly recommend that you borrow this one for Patricia Briggs’ story, but leave the others alone unless you have a special place in your heart for this kind of thing. I know I sure don’t.

Briggs, Patricia, Eileen Wilks, Karen Chance, and Sunny. On The Prowl. New York: Berkeley Books, 2007. 341 pages. $10.99 (Canadian).



Inaugural Post
January 31, 2008, 1155
Filed under: news | Tags: , ,

So here I am, a girl and her blog, together at last…

Jumpdrives & Cantrips is a labour of love for me, one that will look at the SF industry and produce reviews of many of the books I read. I’ve been reading SF/Science Fiction/Fantasy/whatever other genre label you feel inclined to use for over 15 years, and I still love reading it. I also found that there wasn’t one really great site for reviews–don’t get me wrong. There are some very good ones, but many of them cater to people who are generally a little more focused in their reading or tend to summarize without analyzing. Which is fine, but if I intend to read the book anyway, I don’t feel the need to peruse a plot summary personally.

On to a news tidbit!

I don’t know if you’ve seen the name floating around the ether, but I sure have. The Dabel Brothers Publishing group certainly is expanding their cavalcade of graphic novels/comics based on the works of other writers. Notably, the most publicized was Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, which has been in the media a lot anyway between the however-many-books-it-is-now series and the TV show. However, they also have taken on projects involving writers Laurell K. Hamilton, George R. R. Martin, Dean Koontz, Patricia Briggs, and C. E. Murphy. Most of the projects are based on characters in existing novels, sometimes with new story lines, however C. E. Murphy‘s contribution is a new comic book that she has been working on for some years now called “Take a Chance” (and she seems very excited about it!). In any case, the closet comic-book geek in me is squealing happily with excitement at all of this.

Also, Patricia Briggs seems to be getting a log more attention lately given that she is a New York Times Bestselling Author at this point. I think it’s high time, but I hope that everything balances out for her. I was always surprised that she wasn’t more popular, but I suppose now she is publishing more regularly and with a strong existing backlist of novels. I’ve followed her books since Steal the Dragon way back when, which has now finally been brought back into print (with a slightly less appealing cover IMO). And for those of you who are interested in these kinds of things, because her character makes her own silver bullets, Mike Briggs (her husband) has been researching how to make silver bullets and has the start of an amusing and intriguing article on her site here.

Reviews to come: Kris Longknife: Audacious, Spellbinder, and The Cipher