Archive for the ‘Alternate History’ Category

Description From Goodreads:
The Kingdom of Sieunes is rife with taverns, dirty streets, and clay pipe smoking citizens all toiling to feed their families and keep themselves in something little better than rags. With a foiled revolution just ten years prior still burning in the hearts of many, the royals enlist the aid of assassins to keep things in order. The townsfolk entertain themselves by dreaming of better times to come and regaling in stories of the undead said to walk the graveyards at night… and of Cameo the killer with corpse-like eyes…

Scarred and jaded Cameo is one of the most effective assassins in the employ of the Association, moving from one mission to the next as long as the alcohol keeps flowing. Her acceptance of the murder-for-hire lifestyle is thrown into doubt when she meets a local highwayman with a penchant for fine clothes and women, and then she begins to think about breaking with the company but no one ever breaks with the Association under good terms.

CAMEO THE ASSASSIN, by Dawn McCullough-White
Available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Review: *** 3 Stars
The characters drew me into CAMEO THE ASSASSIN, and though I hated the ending, the novel was an entertaining read, and a nice break from physical perfection and honorable heroes.

Characters: **** 4 Stars
It was nice for once to have characters who aren’t physically perfect, or even very desirable. The author did a great job making me feel connected to these imperfect people and able to relate to their foibles.

Cameo is a coldly compassionate assassin, with dead gray eyes to match. She has a fairy tale monster reputation for living in graveyards and killing children who don’t go to bed, but she doesn’t kill indiscriminately…well, unless she’s paid to do so.  When she’s assigned to kill Black Opal, a notorious highwayman, she finds she can’t go through with it, and ends up alienating herself from the Association she works for in order to keep him alive. She’s an interesting mix of self-loathing, empathy, loneliness, warrior, and friend.

Black Opal, the apparent love interest, is a bit of an enigma. A dandy with a passion for fine coats and makeup, he is described both as pock-marked and handsome, and he has only one eye. While he is a womanizer, constantly picking up on ladies and whores alike, he has a soft spot for Cameo and becomes incredibly jealous any time she takes any interest, platonic or not, in another man.

Secondary characters include Bel (Opal’s partner in crime), Kyrian (a young acolyte who’s more than what he appears), and Wick (the leader of the Association and a witch capable of convincing everyone but Cameo that she’s a beautiful young temptress rather than an ugly old woman who smokes too much). Overall, a very well-rounded cast.

Plot: ** 2 Stars
The plot wasn’t terrible, but the ending killed it, no pun intended. There was a reasonably strong story arc with a good balance of action sequences and character development. However, it sometimes felt like the author was trying to build suspense by not telling the reader something that the character knows. For example, Cameo is given a task by her Master, but we’re not told what that task is until she’s practically done achieving it. Even given that, I probably wouldn’t have given the plot two stars, except that there was no ending. The book ends seconds after the climax, literally ending with an ellipsis and the word “End”. There are several plot points left open and no emotional release. I know the story continues in a trilogy, but each book should still be a complete novel.

Setting: ** 2 Stars
The story is set primarily on the road out of Lockenwood, in a quasi-eighteenth century world, but the characters just go back and forth, back and forth, back and forth…you get the idea. The description is limited, even when they visit taverns or inns along the way. I really wanted more sensory detail throughout the novel.

Romance: ** 2 Stars
Cameo and Black Opal are an odd pair. Arguably, neither is the ideal of beauty, and yet they are attracted to each other from the beginning. That being said, Opal is more concerned about his makeup and being desirable to everyone than he is about wooing Cameo (not that she would be easily wooed, but that’s beside the point). Meanwhile, Cameo is stuck in a loop of self-pity and can’t see that Opal likes her, despite his obvious jealousy when she’s around other men. Though they help each other through some rather horrific and violent events, they don’t actually come together in a romantic way until the last couple of pages.

Genre – Dark Adventure Fantasy: **** 4 Stars
CAMEO THE ASSASSIN is a pretty good representation of a Dark Fantasy novel, despite its flaws. There’s blood and violence, undead creatures, and two different graveyards. While I abhorred the ending of this first book, I imagine that the entire trilogy is probably a pretty decent story, and I may even give the second book, CAMEO AND THE HIGHWAYMAN, a chance.

Note: This review was requested by the author. The only compensation received was a free copy of the book.


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Description From Goodreads:

Only one thing is certain: when Hallows’ Night comes, the Wild Hunt will ride – and it feeds on mortal blood.

Cat and her cousin Bee are caught in a maze of intrigue, treachery, and magic. Everyone seems to want something from them: the Cold Mages are trying to take them prisoner, and the warlord who wants to conquer all of Europa seems sure they have a special destiny to aid him whether they want to or not. Worse, hidden powers deep in the spirit world are rising, and they are the most dangerous of all. Cat must seek allies and figure out who she can trust in order to save the ones she loves. For if she doesn’t, everything will be lost.

COLD FIRE, by Kate Elliott
Available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble


Review: ***** 5 Stars
COLD FIRE continues right where COLD MAGIC left off: Cat, Bee, and Rory at the law offices of Godwik and Clutch. I was slightly irritated that the story backtracked a little, but that’s only because I read it immediately following COLD MAGIC. I’m sure the rest of the world appreciated the refresher. In any case, COLD FIRE was a fast and furious continuation of the trilogy, and a perfect middle for the story arc. If only I didn’t have to wait for the conclusion!

In this second installment, Cat finally gets some real answers about her identity while fighting against the powers that seek to control her, which is pretty much everyone. The story starts in Adurnam, but the majority takes place in Expedition, the revolutionary city in the Caribbean, where Cat is forced to spy for the Master of the Wild Hunt or he will sacrifice Bee on Hallow’s Night. Meanwhile, Camjiata is back with his own plans for Cat and her cousin. There are so many layers of intrigue, it’s hard to believe that anyone is on her side. Even Bee betrays Cat on accident, and Cat herself unwittingly acts as the pawn in multiple schemes. Everyone has their own angle, and everyone seems to think that they can force Cat into their own plans. Cat struggles to break free, determined to make her own destiny and protect those that she loves.

Characters: **** 4 Stars
Everything I said in my review of COLD MAGIC still holds true. I would love to sit down with the main characters, and they felt so real to me that I almost thought I could! Andevai in particular grew as a character, and I was thrilled that he pursued Cat with such determination. I will say, however, that the Expedition natives felt a bit one-dimensional. They were secondary, but they felt stereotypical: the mother hen, the protective and distrustful friend, and the witless teenage sister. More could have been done to flesh them out and bring them into the story.

Plot: **** 4 Stars
With more twists than a mountain road, COLD FIRE kept the story moving. Betrayal after betrayal leaves Cat spinning, but she stays strong in the face of mounting problems. Overall, I thought this was a great follow-up to the first book, but there were a couple of issues that threw me out of the story for a moment (a very brief moment).

First, Cat is magically dropped off in the middle of the ocean near Salt Island, a quarantine zone for the salters. However, the Master of the Wild Hunt dropped her there because he has no ability to enter the area (hence his need for her to spy). It seemed contradictory that he didn’t have to send her back to Adurnam and force her to travel to Expedition on her own, but perhaps that’s why she was dropped in the ocean and not on land?

Second, when she finally arrives in the city of Expedition, she just happens to run into Andevai, 7 months later and halfway across the world from their last meeting. It was necessary for the story to have them in the same place at the same time, but the setup was a bit awkward.

Setting: ***** 5 Stars
As in COLD MAGIC, the alternate earth setting really worked for me. With the addition of Salt Island and Expedition, the world expanded and exploded with color, literally and figuratively. Given that it’s November, it made me wish I could hop on a plane and take a vacation on the beach!

Romance: ***** 5 Stars
Away from the mage houses and the Northern cold, Vai finally breaks through the cold mask he wears and reveals his true nature: a warm, sentimental heart that will fight to find and win Cat’s love. The two have to learn to trust each other, each overcoming their past and choosing to move forward together. It’s a slow process, with heartbreak along the way, but eventually they take the step that solidifies their bond. [Note: Kate Elliott has written a free bonus chapter from Vai’s point of view that was a wonderful look into his psyche during the critical…ah…adult moment. It’s available on her website, but don’t read it until you’ve finished the book!]

Genre – Multiple: ***** 5 Stars
Steampunk becomes more prominent in COLD FIRE, but the genres integrate even better as a result. Like COLD MAGIC, it’s a fantastic mash-up that is hard to categorize, but fun to read. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

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Description From Goodreads:

It is the dawn of a new age… The Industrial Revolution has begun, factories are springing up across the country, and new technologies are transforming in the cities. But the old ways do not die easy.

“I was not a bard or a djeli or an historian or a scribe and I was certainly not a sage, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t curious…”

Young Cat Barahal thinks she understands the world she lives in and her place in it, but in fact she is merely poised, unaware, on the brink of shattering events. Drawn into a labyrinth of politics involving blood, betrayal and old feuds, she will be forced to make an unexpected and perilous journey in order to discover the truth, not just about her own family but about an ancient secret lying at the heart of her world.

Cat and her cousin Bee are part of this revolution. Young women at college, learning of the science that will shape their future and ignorant of the magics that rule their families. But all of that will change when the Cold Mages come for Cat. New dangers lurk around every corner and hidden threats menace her every move. If blood can’t be trusted, who can you trust?

COLD MAGIC, by Kate Elliott
Available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Review: ***** 5 Stars
COLD MAGIC is a fantastic cross-genre epic, bringing together themes from epic fantasy, romantic fantasy, steampunk, and alternative history to snare readers for hours. I was 100% sucked into this world, reading the first two 500+ page installments in less than a week. If the third was available, I’d be reading that one right now too!

Catherine Hassi Barahal is a young woman raised in a family known for its skill as merchants of information…in other words, spies. She’s trained to use a blade and keep secrets both for her family, but more importantly for herself. Born with unheard of abilities to disappear in plain site, hear beyond human ability, and see in the dark, Catherine is very much the Cat that everyone calls her. But her most important secret is one that even she doesn’t know. When the cold mage comes to claim her, Cat is drawn into a chaotic adventure that slowly reveals the truth about her history and lays the path of the future.

Characters: ***** 5 Stars
I adored the characters in COLD MAGIC. Cat is fully believable, and someone that I would probably be great friends with if I ever met her in person. She’s feisty and talks too much, but she’s also loyal, hard-working, and has a vulnerable core that endeared her to me. Her cousin, Beatrice (Bee), is similarly well-rounded. Also loyal, Bee is a much better actress and knows how to use her feminine charms to get what she wants. The two together make a perfect team. Meanwhile, the cold mage, Andevai (Vai), is just what he sounds: cold. He’s haughty and rude, paying little attention to the physical needs and emotional turmoil of his hapless bride. However, every once in awhile, you get a glimpse of the real man underneath the cold mask, and by the end of the book I have to admit I was rooting for him.

Plot: **** 4 Stars
Betrayed by her family and married off to the cold mage, Cat’s adventure is just beginning.  There are enough twists and turns to keep it interesting despite the length of the novel. I will admit that a few of the twists were obvious chapters in advance of their revelation, and occasionally I was frustrated that Cat wasn’t figuring things out faster, but it was never enough to make me want to put the book down, even for a moment!

Setting: ***** 5 Stars
The alternate earth setting is drawn with fine detail and attention to our earth’s history. Kate Elliott must have done a great deal of research in preparation for world building, because the quality of the descriptions and integration of backstory is unparalleled.

Romance: **** 4 Stars
I’m giving the romance less than 5 stars for one reason and one reason only: Cat, though confused about her feelings, still doesn’t trust or like Vai at the end of the book. I have a strong feeling this is going to change (okay, I already read the second installment, but I’m reviewing that separately) but I couldn’t give a full 5 stars when the romantic interest isn’t at least partially gratified by the end.  That being said, I loved the slow-build as Vai’s true nature is revealed, and Cat’s conflicting emotions. In the full arc of the trilogy, I expect great things from the two of them.

Genre – Multiple: ***** 5 Stars
This may be the first book I’ve read that crosses more than two genres. Certainly it’s epic fantasy: it’s a cross country adventure with magic and trolls and a parallel spiritworld.  It’s also steampunk with a conflict between the old magical order and the new technologies rising from the Amerikes. There’s a potential for a strong romance between Cat and Andevai, and the the novel also takes place in an “alternate earth” setting. Regardless, Kate Elliott does a wonderful job tying together these elements and creating a story that fits into all and none of these.

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