In Book 2 of the “Kane Chronicles”, the Texas-based author of the “Tres Navarre” mysteries cleverly uses hilarious, romantic, magical, and thrill-packed entertainment to educate young adults about ancient Egyptian mythology. He’s very sneaky that way. But we’re not surprised since he did the same thing with Greek mythology in the “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series. Ditto with Roman mythology in the “Heroes of Olympus” series. Face it, you’re going to need a roadmap to keep track of all the different ways Rick Riordan has brought the legends of ancient gods and heroes into the present day. But in spite of the globe-trotting complexity of the action in this book, and the relative unfamiliarity of the gods, monsters, and mythological concepts it introduces, this is a deceptively easy book to enjoy.
The fifth book of the “Squire’s Tales” series continues this Wisconsin-based author’s retelling of Arthurian legends for younger readers with a combination of two knightly love stories with the point of view of a minstrel knight who has fallen out of love with romantic love. Forced into knighthood, though he would rather be a rebec-playing troubadour, Sir Dinadan rides out into the English countryside in search of inspiration for heroic ballads. Instead, he finds disillusionment. First it comes in the form of a beautiful lady who toys with his heart and tries to trick him into doing something vile. Then he observes the series of tasks that a would-be knight named Culloch must do to win the hand of a Welsh princess—ridiculous tasks that have nothing to do with the “helping the helpless” sort of thing King Arthur values in his knights. And thirdly, he gets mixed up in the affair of Tristram and Iseult, the most tragic lovers in all of song and legend, though in reality (as Dinadan sees it) theirs is the stupidest and most sordid story of all.
In a twisted alternate world, the Dragonlands are situated between the Kingdom of Hereford and the Duchy of Brecon, in the west of a balnkanized version of England and Wales known as the Ununited Kingdoms. It’s a world where magic is slowly dying out, its practitioners reduced to delivering pizzas on flying carpets and rewiring houses by spell.
In this sequel to “Hold Me Closer”, “Necromancer”, college dropout, ex-fry cook, late-blooming necromancer Sam LaCroix begins to make sense of his long hidden powers, his network of strange and dangerous allies, his steamy relationship with the Alpha female of a werewolf pack, and the huge fortune left to him by the villain he recently vanquished. But he’d better hurry. More challenges are coming at him, as fast as he can deal with them.
From the author of “The True Meaning of Smekday” comes this lyrical, funny story about a fifteen-year-old loser who has just started trying to lose weight when someone bites him, and he becomes a vampire. Forever fat and fifteen in Philadelphia would be depressing enough. But when Doug Lee tries to take control of his unlife, tries to mold himself into something more attractive and powerful than the kid who is always picked last for team activities—well, that’s when things really start to suck.
Even though Samhain is not pronounced anything like how it looks, somehow young Samhain Corvus LaCroix has picked up the nickname Sam, along with a mediocre career path based on dropping out of college and working at a burger joint. He shares a one-bedroom apartment with his buddies Ramon and Frank (who sleep on the couch and the living room floor, respectively), and has zero love-life in spite of working with a hot number named Brooke and living next door to a Betty White type who always encourages him to walk on the wild side. Nevertheless, Sam only begins to suss out what the wild side is when an irate customer picks him up by his neck and demands to know where he gets off being an unregistered necromancer.
In Book 2 of the “Parasol Protectorate,” a racy supernatural riff on Victorian steampunk, something has taken the fangs out of London’s werewolves and vampires. No worries! Lady Maccon (formerly Miss Alexia Tarabotti) is on the case. In her role as the preternatural adviser to Her Majesty’s Shadow Council—a role she earned by being the only soulless, supernatural-powers-neutralizing, respectable married lady in town—she gate-crashes a reunion between her werewolf husband and his former pack, somewhere in the southern Scottish Highlands.
The first of (at present) five books in a series titled “The Parasol Protectorate” introduces a world that combines Victorian-era Steampunk with vampires, werewolves, and ghosts. It’s a romantic comedy of manners with a broad streak of sensuous eroticism, ripe for an Adult Content Advisory. How ripe? Let me tell you. One day on my way to work, while listening to the audio-book expertly narrated by Emily Grey, I had to turn off my car stereo several blocks short of my destination. No more needs to be said.
I understand exactly why “The Automated Detective” came up in conversation after my friends read my review of “The Manual of Detection”. The mash-up of sci-fi/fantasy and hard-boiled detective fiction really is an up and coming genre. If my review of “Manual” gave the impression that it controls that territory unchallenged, I apologize. On the other hand, “The Manual of Detection” thrives in a world completely different from this book. The one is a straight-faced cocktail of period detective story and surrealist dream sequence; the other, an outrageous spoof of the era of pulp-fiction that scatters its in-jokes, machine-gun style, across both genres indiscriminately.
Some trilogies are open-ended. When the author decides to add a fourth book to it, we start to call it the So-and-So Quartet. Since fans of a series are unlikely to regret the arrival of a new installment, this sort of thing is usually embarrassing only to publishers who have invested money in packaging the first three books as the So-and-So Trilogy, and to unsparingly critical readers who notice (sometimes) that the fourth book isn’t quite as good. But what do we do when a trilogy comes to a very definite, final end—like, for example, the Bartimaeus Trilogy, whose human protagonist John Mandrake made the final sacrifice at the end of book three? (Oops. Spoilers!) How does the author get away with adding a fourth book to the series? It’s easy, actually. He makes it a prequel. And he makes it good.