Trilogy Review: Agent of Hel by Jacqueline Carey

The Agent of Hel Trilogy
by Jacqueline Carey
4/5 stars

“Agent of Hel” is a trilogy about a half-human, half-demon woman named Daisy, whose heritage earned her the job of liaison between the human world and the supernatural kingdom. It’s a job that gets particularly complicated when citizens start showing up dead by supernatural causes…

Jacqueline Carey is one of my top authors, specifically for her “Kushiel’s” and “Imriel’s” Trilogies (which contain some of the best writing I’ve ever read, although I’d recommend it with a strong disclaimer of sexual content… particularly of the S&M variety). I’ve come to love her for her rich character development, expansive world/culture building, beautiful love stories, and epic storytelling. Many of these elements you don’t normally see within urban fantasies, whose storylines typically revolve around mystery, action, and instant gratification. As you can imagine, after reading Carey’s epic fantasies, I was intrigued to see how she would tackle a new genre.

And the verdict? “Agent of Hel” was anything but typical… And I really dug it.

My favorite things about this series were the world building and quirky cast of characters. Both of which I thought were developed expansively enough to merit more than just a trilogy. Carey’s supernatural world was one of the most conceptual and well-imagined of any I’ve ever read. Everything from creature creation to the political hierarchy went one or two steps above what I would consider necessary for a good urban fantasy. It was a lot of fun. Carey’s characters also had a lot of depth and backstory, but there wasn’t enough time within such a short series to explore them all thoroughly. I wanted more, which is more or less a positive way to finish a series. I don’t think Carey has any plans to write more, but one can dream.

Anyway, despite the series ending before I was ready for it to, “Agent of Hel” had great pacing that kept me engaged from start to finish. It had a nice balance of action, mystery, romance, and humor, which are ingredients for an awesome read.

As with many urban fantasies, “Agent of Hel” contained a prominent romance – one which I thought did a good job of balancing the action without overwhelming the plot. As with everything else, the love story was a bit atypical. For starters, it wasn’t always clear who the love interest was supposed to be. Also, the romantic story arc didn’t follow the usual formula. Both were things I actually liked about the series and, at the risk of sounding redundant, I also found myself craving another book to keep it going by the time the series ended. I should clarify that my slight dissatisfaction was because I was really enjoying what I was reading and wanted more, but Carey did do a nice job wrapping up her plot points with clear resolutions.

Overall, I’d rank “Agent of Hel” as one of the better urban fantasies and would recommend it to anyone familiar with the genre. Fair warning though, the series contains sexual content.

by Niki Hawkes


Book Reviews: The Dresden Files [Books 5-7] by Jim Butcher

The Dresden Files [Books 8-10]
by Jim Butcher

I can definitely see why Jim Butcher is considered a staple in the Urban Fantasy genre – he has an excellent main character (who is a tad whiny at times, but that’s kind of why I like him), loads of paranormal that will continually ding your creep-o-meter (even though I admit it doesn’t take much to set mine off), and plenty of action, humor, and intrigue. Overall, if you’ve never read an urban fantasy, this author is a great place to start. The best thing about him is that he seems to get better with each book.

Proven Guilty

I really liked Proven Guilty, and although it’s been a while since I read it, I still remember quite a bit about it. It sits nicely in a long line of great Dresden books, that’s for sure. This is the novel where you start to get to know Molly – Michael’s rebellious teenage daughter (and a character I quite like). The coolest part about this book is the plot: Molly and her boyfriend get mixed up in a phenomenon of horror movies brought to life. Dresden, as usual, has to figure out what’s going on. It was a mystery I enjoyed watching him unravel. Overall, a solid installment.

4/5 stars

White Knight

White Knight was my least favorite of the series so far (of the latter books, anyway… the beginning of the saga started out admittedly rough). That is, however, until I started writing this review. You see, the book as a whole was actually comparably good. The culprit for my dissatisfaction was a single, prolonged dream/alternate plain of existence scene right in the middle of the book that took me out of the action and added absolutely nothing to the plot. It was weird. Had it not been included, I’m sure I’d be sitting here praising White Knight with the same enthusiasm as the rest, but that one scene managed to leave the taint on the whole thing. Aside from that, the book was actually pretty entertaining – containing a mystery surrounding Thomas (whom I love), and a few hilarious moments. If you read it, just skip that weird part and all is good.

3.5/5 stars

Small Favor

I actually liked Small Favor a lot. Like, enough that it may be my favorite of the series. Here’s where I have to admit that I’m composing this review way after reading the book and have already ventured on as far as book 14. It’s still my favorite so far… mostly because, in a long series where individual story lines start to blend together, I can still remember with vivid clarity everything that happened in this book. It had a great conflict right off the bat (a good start), and ended with one of the coolest battle settings so far (a good ending). Not to mention it was funny as shit. Consider book 10 Obsessive Bookseller endorsed.

4.5/5 stars

If you haven’t picked up a Dresden book yet, just know you’re in for a well-conceived and sustainable series, jam-packed with scary monsters and a lot of snark. I consider them a must-try for any fan of the genre.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Title: Hyperion

Author: Dan Simmons

Series: Hyperion Cantos #1

Genre:  Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 stars

The OverviewOn the world called Hyperion, beyond the law of the Hegemony of Man, there waits the creature called the Shrike. There are those who worship it. There are those who fear it. And there are those who have vowed to destroy it. In the Valley of the Time Tombs, where huge, brooding structures move backward through time, the Shrike waits for them all. On the eve of Armageddon, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion seeking the answers to the unsolved riddles of their lives. Each carries a desperate hope—and a terrible secret. And one may hold the fate of humanity in his hands.

The Review:

“Hyperion” was an interesting book, but it’s difficult to convey what the story was about in a summary. It’s one of those books that gradually reveals its purposes as the plot progresses. In a nutshell, a handful of POV characters journey to Hyperion – an enigma of a world made even more mysterious by the presence of the Shrike (see cover for visual – it’s the big metallic being). As each character expands on their connection to this world, you start to get a sense of what’s really going on.

“Hyperion” is definitely a thought-provoking book. Although it started out with heavy religious overtones (the first perspective being the religious POV), it soon captured my imagination with a complex mystery and only got more engaging from there. It was not a feel-good story. It was the kind of gritty, morbid tale that kept me page-turning well into the night despite the ever growing knot in my stomach. Then it kept me up even longer as my brain tried to sort out all the information learned about this world, the Shrike, and their effects on time itself. It’s ironically exhausting… and kind of brilliant.

Time manipulation in stories is a tricky thing. It can go from a clever idea to convoluted in a heartbeat. I often  find myself finishing such books or shows slightly confused, wondering if I missed a critical detail somewhere or if the author just failed to communicate it clearly (it’s usually a bit of both). In “Hyperion,” Simmons did a decent job of presenting his concept in segments which were easier to digest. In fact, his overall presentation of all pertinent information was very carefully placed and effective. It allowed me to build my own theories alongside the characters based on every new revelation. That’s the sort of engaging interaction I always enjoy within books. Overall, it’s one of the better conceptual time-manipulation novels I’ve ever read.

Another note in “Hyperion’s” favor was its timelessness. It was written when I was 4 years old (O_o) yet read as though it was written within the last couple of years (and will likely do so for many to come). It illustrated just how smart Dan Simmons is at story construction. Surmising from just the text, Simmons comes across as a very well read, intelligent person. It was awesome to pick up on all the literary references throughout the plot, and I’ve always been impressed with authors who can present POV characters with such integral differences in perspective on complex issues such as religion and politics, and do so convincingly. I have no idea where the author’s personal stances are on these issues, and that something I oddly love about his writing.

I can  easily see why classic sci-fi lovers rave about this book and defend their 5 star ratings to the ends of the earth. My conservative 3 star rating, however, hopefully conveys appreciation for the book while acknowledging that it didn’t quite blow me away on all accounts. I think the culprit might be the fact that there’s no silver lining or hope in this book. It definitely doesn’t leave you with anything but gloom and that aforementioned knot in your stomach. Now, I don’t need books to be about butterflies and rainbows to enjoy them, but I do need at least a tiny ray of sunshine to give me hope that the story could end well and that the characters are working towards something meaningful. Part of this can be attributed to the format of this first book – the multiple POVs were presented in a reflectional format where all the focus was on what came before. While interesting, it didn’t leave a lot of room for plot advancement, and in fact made  most of the book read like a collection of prequel novellas leading up to the actual beginning of the story.

Overall, I liked “Hyperion” but it didn’t land among my favorites.  It is still an awesome contribution to classic sci-fi and worth your time if you like the genre.

 Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Trilogy Review: The Paradox Series by Rachel Bach

The Paradox Trilogy
by Rachel Bach
5/5 stars!

I LOVED this series. It solidified Rachel Bach (a.k.a. Rachel Aaron) as one of my go-to authors for a guaranteed good read. Seriously – there’s nothing this woman can’t do! “The Paradox Trilogy” is her only sci-fi/space opera series thus far, but she also wrote the “Eli Monpress” fantasy series (which has amazing world-building, humor, and characters you’ll never forget) and the “Heartstrikers” series (which is an urban fantasy about a clan of badass dragons, and one nice dragon who doesn’t quite fit in). The bottom line is, I have yet to be anything short of completely dazzled by everything Rachel Bach has written, and “The Paradox Trilogy” might be my favorite yet!

It starts off with an excellent character – Devi, a young woman mercenary who has one goal: to join the King’s elite Devastators. To show her worth, she applies for the most dangerous job she can find – a security position on Captain Caldwell’s “Golden Fool” trading ship, guaranteed to test her limits. And it only gets more exciting from there.

Bach presents a universe with dynamic and beautifully imagined aliens who make the entire structure of the story memorable. I like sci-fi novels and television shows that focus on technology and human advancement, but it’s the ones with expansive world-building and creature creation that I really love. “The Paradox Trilogy” had, in my opinion, excellent aliens with totally different compositions, motives, and impacts on the story. It’s by far my favorite element to this series.

Another thing I loved is the story’s great pacing. It’s definitely a page-turner with loads of action and excitement. I found it difficult to put down, even in the wee hours of the night. And yet, amongst all the conflicts, the author still managed to include a compelling love story. It occasionally got a little eye-rolling for my tastes, but overall provided a great balance to the heavier fight scenes.

Basically, “The Paradox Trilogy” is now one of my all-time favorites, and I can’t help but feel like nothing I write will do it justice, short of totally gushing. I’ll spare you, but take my word for it – this series is well worth a try! Fair warning: sexual content and mild violence.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Tackling the TBR [11]: May 2016

tackling the TBR

It’s once again time for my favorite feature: Tackling the TBR! There’s nothing I love more than picking out which books to read next, and this slightly organized method of reading has really amped my enjoyment to the next level. Bring on the mantras!

Read the best books first.
Life is too short to read books you’re not enjoying.

However you put together your TBR for the next month, the goal is to reduce the amount of obligation in reading and increase the fun.

Here’s a look at how the system works:

1. Identify the titles that take top priority in your TBR.
2. Combine them all in your own Tackling the TBR post.
3. Throughout the month pick from that pile as the mood strikes you.

Here’s what mine looks like:

TBR Tackler Shelf:

Obviously I’m geeking out about the final Selection book. In fact, I can’t believe I haven’t finished it already… I’m kind of trying to savor it. This month is devoted to clearing out some of the random titles in my audible TBR, and it’s a hodgepodge.

What I did last month:

Of all the titles listed last month, I read 7 1/2 of them. :-)

Now, I can tell you from experience that this Tackling the TBR experiment is so much more fun and rewarding when there’s more than one person (me) participating. Does anybody want to play along?

Even if you don’t specifically use my system, feel free to share your versions of how you manage your TBR pile (and the links to your posts if applicable) in the comments!

Maybe we can help make each other’s systems even better. :)

What books are you Tackling this month?

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

a natural history of dragonTitle: A Natural History of Dragons

Author: Marie Brennan

Series: Memoir of Lady Trent #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 2.5 stars

The Overview: All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day. Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever. 

The Review:

I’ve been stalling on writing this review because I have so many conflicting emotions about it – it has been hard to get my thoughts straight. Up to about a third of the way through the novel, I was certain it was going to be one of my new all-time favorites. Every last element sang to me in a way that only a handful of novels ever have:

  • A young girl who dreams of studying dragons in a society that considers that a very unladylike endeavor.
  • A memoir narration from this girl many decades later indicating that she broke through all of the societal constraints and is now considered the foremost expert in the field.
  • A sweet love story where she meets someone willing to accept and share her passions.
  • The promise of adventure as she sets out to study her first specimen at an exotic location.
  • And of course, an abundance of dragons!

All of these elements were in line with my personal passions – books, dragons, and nature – and brought them together in a way that made me lose myself within the pages. It was magical!

But, alas, the magic didn’t carry through the entire story. ::sobs::

There were several issues that arose as the novel progressed, and I lament because ALL OF THEM could’ve been avoided with a different outlining strategy/focus on the author’s part.

The major one was the main conflict of the story. In a book about a dragon-nut going on a wild adventure to study dragons in a way never before attempted, I feel strongly that the main conflict SHOULD HAVE REVOLVED AROUND THE DRAGONS. Instead, the dragons remained on the periphery of the story and were only loosely related to what drove 2/3 of the book. It focused on a mystery surrounding a small village, a larger village, some old ruins, a handful of bandits, and some politicking between all of them – none of which had absolutely anything meaningful to do with the dragons and, frankly, could have been easily adjusted to omit the dragons altogether. What an opportunity wasted!!! I’m still agonizing over it.

The second issue was with characterization… particularly that of the main character. She was a bright woman who wanted nothing more than to study dragons. This obsession made her a bit reckless at times when dragons were concerned, which is consistent with her character (and an element I appreciated). What isn’t consistence is how she kept making harebrained decisions when no dragons were involved at all. Stupid stuff. Stuff that leaves you going “no half-intelligent person would do that! What is wrong with this woman?!” It was frustrating, to say the least. The only thing I can figure is that the author orchestrated these odd decisions because she couldn’t figure out another way to advance the plot and get the character from point A to point B any other way. But that’s just me theorizing…

Ugh. Overall, I both fawn and agonize over A Natural History of Dragons, and am really nervous to pick up the second one. I’ll keep in mind that Brennan has the ability to dazzle me and what was done well was done brilliantly enough to give me hope going forward.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes