When I saw this book at the public library, I thought it had a striking design. This, including loads of quirky but beautiful illustrations, is the work of Carson Ellis, who has also decorated books by Lemony Snicket and Trenton Lee Stewart. As for the author, I thought his name sounded familiar. Only later, after I had brought the book home, did I connect it with the alternative rock band the Decemberists, of which Colin Meloy is the lead singer and songwriter. If you’re familiar with his music, you may not be surprised to learn that hints of a political message and of a New Agey, earth-magic type of spirituality perfume the pages of his book. But it’s also a thrilling fantasy adventure featuring a couple of kids from St. Johns, Portland, Oregon, who find a strange, magical, perilous world hidden within a short bicycle ride of their city.
Give a Chicago private eye a magic wand, and what do you get? Well, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, mostly. But Harry Dresden is a wizard of our time—a little rusty with high-tech gadgetry, to be sure, but also a VW Beetle-driving, pop-culture-riffing, very human wizard. One reviewer frequently quoted in jacket blurbs of the Dresden novels likens him to a mash-up of Philip Marlowe and Merlin. But actually, he’s a lot more like Richard Castle combined with Harry Potter. If you really want your wand-wielding detective hard boiled, you should try Mick Oberon. He has the period for it: the 1930s, the age of bootleggers and Chicago gangsters like Bugs Moran and Al Capone. He also has a shoulder holster in which he packs a high-caliber wand, best used for giving and taking luck and maybe spinning the occasional glamour. He talks in a clipped voice loaded with period slang, like “flivver” for “automobile” and “gink” for “man.” He could almost have stepped out of a pulp novel by James M. Cain or Raymond Chandler. Only, he isn’t human.
What do a wearh, a manjasang, a nachzehrer, and an alukah have in common? In this sequel to “A Discovery of Witches”, we find out that they are all words for “vampire” used across 16th century Europe, from Oxfordshire to the Auvergne to the Jewish Quarter of Prague. Present-day American witch Diana Bishop has the opportunity to learn about them, not only as a post-doctoral scholar of the history of alchemy, but also as the time-traveling wife of a vampire prince known by just as many names: Mattieu de Clermont, Matthew Roydon, Sebastian St. Clair, Gabriel ben Ariel… One accumulates aliases when one has lived a thousand years or two.
Here is the third “Greywalker” mystery featuring Harper Blaine—a former ballerina turned private detective who, since a near-death experience two books ago, can see, move, and act inside the realm between the natural and the supernatural, called the Grey. Harper has already added experience with vampires, revenants, and poltergeists to her curriculum vitae. In this third outing, she gets to add zombies and a native American monster named Sisiutl.
Before “Twilight” was a gleam in Stephenie Meyer’s eye, author Anne Rice created a sensation with her series of novels about a race of beautiful, sensual vampires. Rooted in Egyptian mythology and very distinct from most vampire lore up to that time, Anne Rice’s vampires were created by being drained of blood to the point of death, then allowed to save themselves by drinking in turn the blood of the vampire who made them. They did not fear garlic, crucifixes, holy water, or silver. Even wooden stakes were only a danger to them if the sun came up while they were struggling to get free.
In this sequel to “Greywalker”, Seattle-based private detective Harper Blaine takes further steps toward understanding her strange new ability to see, and move around in, the world of ghosts, vampires, and necromancers. Months after her cases start to get weird—thanks to a near-death-experience that gave her this unwanted talent—Harper gets called in to catch whoever is faking results in a college psychology experiment.
When we last saw him in “The Farthest Shore”, wizard Ged was the Archmage and had just saved the world with the help of Earthsea’s young king. When we last saw her in “The Tombs of Atuan”, Tenar had just escaped from being the priestess and slave of a dark power, and had helped Ged restore a ring and a rune that kept the world in balance.
“Vampire War”, the third trilogy within the 12-book “Saga of Darren Shan,” begins with this book. More like the previous “Book 1” than the first book in the overall series, it does not so much tell a free-standing story as set the gears in motion for a new chapter in the career of Darren Shan, half-vampire, magician’s assistant, and (increasingly now) warrior prince. It promises to be a chapter filled with savage conflicts, creepy magics, strange surprises, and the dread of a sinister destiny.