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Posts Tagged ‘Witches’

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:

Gwen Sparks holds a rare power. She can see into the memories of the dead. When she learns that vampires are killing witches for the power in their blood and selling it as the new hot drug, brew, she’ll have to team up with her ex-boyfriend, detective Micah Reynolds to catch the murderer. As if working with her ex wasn’t bad enough, Gwen’s also being pulled into the realm of death by an unsettled ghost and has to deal with a sexy but frustrating vampire who wants nothing more than to claim her as his. Can Gwen protect her heart, and her veins from the very species that craves her?

CRAVED, by Stephanie Nelson
Available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Review: ** 2 Stars
Gwen Sparks is a witch living in the otherworldly town of Flora, an enclave of witches, vampires, faeries, and werewolves where no humans are allowed to visit except on one weekend a year.  She reads in the paper that a witch was found dead in a ditch, drained of blood, but the local police are encouraging people not to assume that it’s a serial killer.  Gwen, unable to stand by while witches die, decides to offer her unique ability to learn the last thoughts of the dead to aid in the investigation, thrusting herself into a dangerous police case where she must work with her ex-boyfriend (a werewolf), appease her new boyfriend (a vampire), and avoid being next on the killer’s hitlist.

Reading the description, I had high hopes for this book and this author.  Unfortunately, the reality did not meet up with my expectations.

The premise of the story was unbelievable.  Gwen is an untrained civilian with no offensive magical capabilities.  Yes, she’s helped the police in the past using her abilities, but I have to assume it was at their request and on a limited basis.  It is completely unreasonable to expect cops to welcome a civilian as a full partner in an investigation, yet on this case Gwen manages to insert herself into the center of the action, not only reading the victim’s last thoughts, but going out with the cops to interview suspects and research leads.  Beyond the initial setup, the story also suffered from bad formatting, stiff and immature dialogue, repetitive and unnecessary descriptions of character motives or behaviors, and a lack of a magical system that leads me to believe this was a first effort by an otherwise unpublished author.  I would certainly encourage Ms. Nelson to keep trying, but unfortunately, CRAVED could have used more work before hitting the virtual shelves.

Characters: ** 2 Stars
Gwen is naive and somehow uneducated in her magic, despite living in a community surrounded by other witches.  I’ll grant that she’s young at twenty-six, but I would have thought that she would have been better trained at the school she apparently attended at the age of sixteen.  In the beginning, she is consumed by bitterness and grief over the breakup with her ex, avoiding the vampire that has essentially stalked her for two years, Aiden.  Then without warning, she suddenly falls head over heels in love and can’t stop drooling over him.  Meanwhile, Aiden does very little to deserve her sudden change of heart.  He’s nice enough, but mostly serves as a pretty face and generic alpha male.  The secondary characters are equally terrible.  Fiona is a selfish, spoiled brat that acts like a teenager even though she’s supposed to be Gwen’s best friend.  Micah is Gwen’s ex, but with the exception of the obvious tension in their relationship, I never got a good feel for him.  And the villain might have been crafty, but Gwen suspected him immediately, so there was little suspense to the story.

Plot: *** 3 Stars
The plot had promise, but it was overwhelmed by poor execution.  The first several chapters could have been condensed to provide a more concise introduction to the instigating event.  The magic system also needed to be further developed: there were no rules as to what could or could not be done.  In some cases the witches would use magic to change clothes or put makeup on their face, all with just a thought, and then they had to order a dress from the local tailor.  Finally, the ending was both predictable and far too open-ended for my taste, leaving me wanting (but not in a good way).

Setting: ** 2 Stars
I never got a good feel for the setting throughout the book.  For one thing, the town being segregated from humans threw me for a loop.  Supposedly it’s the humans that want separation, but then only a select few, chosen by the town, are able to visit during an annual festival, while the otherworldly residents can apparently come and go as they please.  I was also never clear on the boundaries of the investigation.  How does the Flora police department have rights to go into other towns to do its investigation?  Were the other towns also otherworld towns?  It was confusing to say the least.

Romance: * 1 Star
Gwen and Aiden were completely unbelievable together.  First, Gwen wants nothing to do with Aiden.  He’s an annoyance.  Then with a flip of a switch, she adores him.  They have sex at the most inappropriate times, like when they’re supposed to be on a stakeout and Gwen’s ex (a werewolf with supernatural hearing) is nearby.  The romance was forced and almost entirely about the sex rather than their relationship.

Genre – Urban Fantasy: ** 2 Stars
The author hits on a few of the urban fantasy tropes, but none are particularly well executed.  There are a couple of deaths and some action, but the horror and gore isn’t well described.  Gwen is on an investigation, but most of the facts just fall into her lap, or are dropped there by ghosts.  It’s sort of in an urban setting, but I couldn’t tell if Flora was really a city or just a large town.  Overall, I was underwhelmed.

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Description From Amazon:

It all begins with a lost manuscript, a reluctant witch, and 1,500-year-old vampire. Dr. Diana Bishop has a really good reason for refusing to do magic: she is a direct descendant of the first woman executed in the Salem Witch Trials, and her parents cautioned her be discreet about her talents before they were murdered, presumably for having “too much power.” So it is purely by accident that Diana unlocks an enchanted long-lost manuscript (a book that all manner of supernatural creatures believe to hold the story of all origins and the secret of immortality) at the Bodleian Library at Oxford, and finds herself in a race to prevent an interspecies war. A sparkling debut written by a historian and self-proclaimed oenophile, A Discovery of Witches is heady mix of history and magic, mythology, and love (cue the aforementioned vampire!), making for a luxurious, intoxicating, one-sitting read. –Daphne Durham

A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES, by Deborah Harkness
Available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Review: ***** 5 Stars
Dr. Diana Bishop is a young professor studying the history of science, particularly alchemy.  It’s an ironic career choice, since the human alchemists of the past hoped to transform lead into gold and discover the elixir of life, arguably magical goals, and Diana is a witch who knows magic is real, but refuses to accept her heritage.

During a brief leave of absence from her position at Yale, Diana is researching the illuminated alchemical manuscripts in Oxford’s Bodleian library when she accidentally calls a bewitched manuscript from the stacks.  Still trying to avoid using magic in her scholarly efforts, Diana quickly studies the manuscript, then sends it back to the recesses of the library.  Unfortunately, calling the manuscript also calls the attention of the otherworld races.  As Diana is followed by daemons, threatened by witches, and watched by vampires, there’s only one creature that she feels she can trust, a 1,500 year-old vampire.

Matthew Clairmont, a scientist and fellow at Oxford, is also interested in the manuscript, but rather than making Diana feel uncomfortable or threatened, he protects and comforts her.  Unfortunately, as their friendship blooms, the other witches become increasingly angry, going so far as to call Diana a traitor and attempting to invade her mind to discover her secrets.  What began as a simple research project morphs into a race to save Diana’s life and discover the truth of the manuscript, the history of the otherworldly creatures, and the path of the future.

A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES is a fantastic debut novel by an actual historian of science.  The depth of knowledge is evident throughout the novel, and the craft is beautifully executed.  This was one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read in years!

Characters: ***** 5 Stars
The characters in A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES are fully developed and well-rounded.  They all have strengths and weaknesses, make occasional bad decisions, and generally act like real people.  Diana Bishop struggles between her heritage and her desire to succeed based on her academic merits.  She’s not a kick-ass heroine, she’s real.  She’s strong, loyal, and dedicated to her family and her career.  Matthew Clairmont is a 1,500 year-old vampire, something that should make him unbelievable in the real world, but somehow he works.  Slowly, over the course of the novel, Matthew’s extensive history is revealed along with the structure of the vampire world.  For once, the hero and heroine are not orphaned or abandoned or ostracised from their families.  Both Diana and Matthew have loving families that do their best to support and protect each other.  They have their struggles and conflicts, but again, they’re real characters with real problems, despite the fact that they’re witches and vampires.

Plot: **** 4 Stars
This is a long book, and it’s paced more like an epic fantasy rather than an urban or contemporary fantasy, which was delightfully unexpected when I first picked up the book.  The plot unfolds gradually, beginning with a single character and setting, and leading into the more complex themes of the novel.  My only complaint is that it’s a little too slow to get started.  It took a few chapters for me to become invested in the characters and the story, but once I was sucked in, there was no turning back.

Setting: ***** 5 Stars
Deborah Harkness must have spent a lot of time in the Bodleian, Oxford, and France.  It’s the only way to explain the depth she’s imbued into the setting of the novel.  The only setting I felt was a little lacking was the Bishop house, but that might have been because it kept magically adding rooms!

Romance: ***** 5 Stars
Diana and Matthew become involved slowly over the course of the novel, but their love seems to run deeper than the average fantasy couple.  They’re not perfect, and they each have to learn to accept the others faults and choose to be together, much like a real marriage.  There’s no sex in this story, at least not in the traditional American sense of the word, but the passion between them smolders all the same.

Genre – Contemporary Fantasy: ***** 5 Stars
I loved A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES through and through.  As noted, the pacing is slower, more epic fantasy than contemporary, but it fit the story and allowed the author to create a depth that isn’t always present in urban or contemporary fantasy.  I would highly recommend this as a starter novel for newbies in the fantasy genre, as well as the long-time readers that enjoy taking their time with a book.

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