Tag Archives: Spellcrackers.com

Favourite London Spec Fic Tales – Part 2

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There are a number of science fiction and fantasy – mostly fantasy, it has to be said – which are set in London, an amazing city, thick with history and yet still buzzing and vibrant. I have already suggested a number of well-written, quality series that use London as an effective backdrop in Part 1 and here is now the next section of the article, which would have been far too long had I published it in one go.

The Laundry Files by Charles Stross
This is another ongoing series that is a solid favourite – I love the way this long-running series has theatrocityarchivesdeveloped to date.

Bob Howard is a low-level techie working for The Laundry, a super-secret government agency. While his colleagues are out saving the world, Bob’s under a desk restoring lost data. None of them receive any thanks for the jobs they do, but at least a techie doesn’t risk getting shot or eaten in the line of duty. Bob’s world is dull but safe, and that’s the way it should have stayed; but then he went and got Noticed. Now, Bob Howard is up to his neck in spycraft, alternative universes, dimension-hopping nazis, Middle Eastern terrorists, damsels in distress, ancient Lovecraftian horror and the end of the world. Only one thing is certain: it will take more than control-alt-delete to sort this mess out…

The first book in this series is The Atrocity Archives.

 

 

Spellcrackers.com by Suzanne McLeod
thesweetscentofbloogThis is a sparkling series with a fantasy PI who pings off the page. I need to get back and catch up with this series!

My name is Genny Taylor. I work for Spellcrackers.com. It’s a great job, pays the rent, lets me do the thing I’m good at – finding magic and cracking it – and the bonus is it’s run by witches, which stops the vamps from taking a bite out of me. When Mr October, a sexy calendar pin-up vamp, is accused of murdering his girlfriend, an old debt is called in and Genny is forced to help prove his innocence, risking her job and the protection it offers – and threatening to expose her own dark secrets. Searching for the killer plunges Genny deep into the hidden heart of vampire society. It’s not long before she realises that she and Mr October are both unwitting pawns in a centuries-old power struggle between London’s non-human communities . . . and it’s not just her own neck that’s at stake, but the lives of all London’s supernaturals. My advice is to start with the first book The Sweet Scent of Blood.

 

The Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud
Nathaniel is a boy magician-in-training, sold to the government by his birth parents at the age of five theamuletofsamarkandand sent to live as an apprentice to a master. Powerful magicians rule Britain, and its empire, and Nathaniel is told his is the “ultimate sacrifice” for a “noble destiny.” If leaving his parents and erasing his past life isn’t tough enough, Nathaniel’s master, Arthur Underwood, is a cold, condescending, and cruel middle-ranking magician in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The boy’s only saving grace is the master’s wife, Martha Underwood, who shows him genuine affection that he rewards with fierce devotion. Nathaniel gets along tolerably well over the years in the Underwood household until the summer before his eleventh birthday. Everything changes when he is publicly humiliated by the ruthless magician Simon Lovelace and betrayed by his cowardly master who does not defend him.

Nathaniel vows revenge. In a Faustian fever, he devours magical texts and hones his magic skills, all the while trying to appear subservient to his master. When he musters the strength to summon the 5,000-year-old djinni Bartimaeus to avenge Lovelace by stealing the powerful Amulet of Samarkand, the boy magician plunges into a situation more dangerous and deadly than anything he could ever imagine.
This intelligent, well written trilogy may feature a wise-cracking genie, who is the main protagonist – but it is for older children, as the jaw-dropping climax left me wrung out… The first book is The Amulet of Samarkand – see my review here.

 

The Newbury and Hobbes series by George Mann
theaffinitybridgeThe entertaining steampunk detective series has also grabbed me as I’ve enjoyed the progression of the characters.

Welcome to the bizarre and dangerous world of Victorian London, a city teetering on the edge of revolution. Its people are ushering in a new era of technology, dazzled each day by new inventions. Airships soar in the skies over the city, whilst ground trains rumble through the streets and clockwork automatons are programmed to carry out menial tasks in the offices of lawyers, policemen and journalists. But beneath this shiny veneer of progress lurks a sinister side. For this is also a world where ghostly policemen haunt the fog-laden alleyways of Whitechapel, where cadavers can rise from the dead and where Sir Maurice Newbury, Gentleman Investigator for the Crown, works tirelessly to protect the Empire from her foes.

When an airship crashes in mysterious circumstances, Sir Maurice and his recently appointed assistant Miss Veronica Hobbes are called in to investigate. Meanwhile, Scotland Yard is baffled by a spate of grisly murders and a terrifying plague is ravaging the slums of the city.

The first book in the series is The Affinity Bridge.

 

The Skyscraper Throne series by Tom Pollock
This gritty, urban fantasy has London singing off the pages as a magical personification that I found thecity'ssonenthralling.
Running from her traitorous best friend and her estranged father, graffiti artist Beth Bradley is looking for sanctuary. What she finds is Urchin, the ragged and cocky crown prince of London’s mystical underworld. Urchin opens Beth’s eyes to the city she’s never truly seen-where vast spiders crawl telephone wires seeking voices to steal, railwraiths escape their tethers, and statues conceal an ancient priesthood robed in bronze. But it all teeters on the brink of destruction. Amid rumors that Urchin’s goddess mother will soon return from her 15-year exile, Reach, a malign god of urban decay, wants the young prince dead. Helping Urchin raise an alleyway army to reclaim his skyscraper throne, Beth soon forgets her old life. But when her best friend is captured, Beth must choose between this wondrous existence and the life she left behind.

The first book in the series is The City’s Son – see my review here.

 

 

The Magnificent Devices series by Shelley Adina
magnificentdevicesThis is a steampunk, alternate history romp, featuring a feisty protagonist – and if you think it starts off reading like a typical period romance, do keep reading because it suddenly turns into something so much more intriguing…

London, 1889. Victoria is Queen. Charles Darwin’s son is Prime Minister. And steam is the power that runs the world. At 17, Claire Trevelyan, daughter of Viscount St. Ives, was expected to do nothing more than pour an elegant cup of tea, sew a fine seam, and catch a rich husband. Unfortunately, Claire’s talents lie not in the ballroom, but in the chemistry lab, where things have a regrettable habit of blowing up. The first book in the series is Magnificent Devices – see my review here.

 

 

 

The Night’s Masque series by Anne Lyle
This is an historical genre mash-up, with a dash of science fiction thrown into the alternate world, whichalchemistofsouls gives an intriguing backdrop to the storyline.

When Tudor explorers returned from the New World, they brought back a name out of half-forgotten Viking legend: skraylings. Red-sailed ships followed in the explorers’ wake, bringing Native American goods–and a skrayling ambassador–to London. But what do these seemingly magical beings really want in Elizabeth I’s capital? Mal Catlyn, a down-at-heel swordsman, is seconded to the ambassador’s bodyguard, but assassination attempts are the least of his problems. What he learns about the skraylings and their unholy powers could cost England her new ally–and Mal his soul.

The first book in this entertaining series is The Alchemist of Souls – see my review here.

 

 

Triumff , Her Majesty’s Hero by Dan Abnett
triumffThis is standalone genre mash-up swashbuckler has a premise that doesn’t bear too much close examination – but I found I didn’t really care, because it’s such fun…
Sir Rupert Triumff. Adventurer. Fighter. Drinker. Saviour? Triumff is a ribald historical fantasy set in a warped clockwork-powered version of our present day. A new Elizabethan age, not of Elizabeth II but in the style of the original Virgin Queen. Throughout its rollicking pages, Sir Rupert Triumff drinks, dines and duels his way into a new Brass Age of Exploration and Adventure. Read my review here.

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Review of The Sweet Smell of Blood – Book 1 of Spellcrackers.com by Suzanne McLeod

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I’d just tossed yet another half-read book across the bedroom in a fit of disgust, when my gaze fell upon one of the freebies stacked up by my bed I’d acquired at Fantasycon – The Sweet Smell of Blood. I’d read it a while ago and recalled I thoroughly enjoyed it. I like McLeod’s writing – read my review of The Cold Kiss of Death here . And though I don’t very often revisit a book, I reckoned I was due a treat – and this time around I was going to write a review about it…

sweetsmellofbloodMy name is Genny Taylor. I work for Spellcrackers.com. It’s a great job, pays the rent, lets me do the thing I’m good at – finding magic and cracking it – and the bonus is it’s run by witches, which stops the vamps from taking a bite out of me. Not that vampires are the big bad any more, not since they launched a slick PR campaign. Now the vamps are sought-after celebrities, and Getting Fanged and taking the Gift are the new height of all things cool. But only if you’re human. And I’m not… I’m Sidhe fae. And I know first hand just how deadly a vampire can be.

McLeod doesn’t hang about with this first book in the series. We’re straight into the world with plenty going on and Genny’s smart, enjoyable first person narrative giving us a ringside seat. In addition to our feisty heroine, there is also a cast of vibrant characters accompanying her on this roller-coaster adventure. Small wonder that Spellcracker.com became such a successful series – in my opinion, it is right up there with Charlaine Harris and her Southern Vampire series at its best.

One of the aspects I really enjoyed with this book is the way Genny’s traumatic past is woven into the fast-paced action going on, so that the aftermath and consequences bite her – physically and metaphorically – just when she least needs it. Which is a nifty trick to pull off, particularly at the start of a long-running series. I also want to congratulate Gollancz for their really strong covers – using the same girl to feature in them, who is a red-head as flagged in the text… After some of the mismatches I’ve seen in the past, it is a real pleasure to see such coherence across the series…

There are plot twists a-plenty and while I recalled quite a lot about Genny and her circumstances, the details of the actual plot had faded sufficiently that I could enjoy it all over again. Standout characters that had lodged in my memory were the enticing satyr Finn and the lovably dependable Hugh. I enjoyed the tensions set up between the supernatural races – as well as being plausible, they promise continued and intriguing lines of conflict. Vampires find fae blood irresistible and fae are far harder to kill than humans… While it isn’t necessarily completely original, McLeod’s punchy prose gives the story a freshness and readability that was pure pleasure after a couple of the recent sorry efforts I’d attempted to wade through.

If your weakness is urban fantasy, complete with an engaging, complex protagonist, suave dangerous vampires and a number of enjoyable fae, including the satyr, then track down this first book. The real bonus is that it is the first one in the series – and there are three others, with the fifth book, The Hidden Rune of Iron, due out during this month. Enjoy!
9/10

Review of The Cold Kiss of Death – Book 2 of Spellcrackers.com by Suzanne McLeod

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I’d read the first in this entertaining urban fantasy series, The Sweet Scent of Blood,  over a year ago and had been impressed with the emotional depth of the protagonist and McLeod’s adroit plotting – this is certainly a cut above the average supernatural romp. For various reasons, I hadn’t written a review – but the reasons had nothing to do with not enjoying or liking the book. Would I enjoy the sequel as much?

coldkissGiven her sidhe bloodline and her job at Spellcrackers, Genny Taylor is accustomed to seeing ghosts. But rarely has she been haunted by one so persistent. Who – or what – ever it is, is trying to help her, she knows. Only she doesn’t know how. Then a friend of Genny’s is murdered, and she stops worrying about the meddlesome spirit and starts worrying about the fact that all the evidence points to… her.

That’s the blurb. What it doesn’t convey, is the well-developed characterisation of Genny, who despite blundering around with all the finesse of an elephant in a china shop at times, I found sympathetic and enjoyable. It was something of a relief to have a heroine who fails to pick up so many of the nuances despite being intelligent and reasonably alert. McLeod is walking something of a tightrope. Genny Taylor is a rarity, as sidhe this side of a closed portal are rare – a scenario as familiar as the dark creepy cover. However, she avoids Genny becoming a Mary Sue – someone innately ‘special’ who breezes through the book hardly touched by all the chaos around her – by making the consequences and final fallout brutal and longlasting. One of the main supporting characters is killed off in this book, for instance.

And kudos to the publishers for the cool covers – I’m always ranting about inappropriate covers and spoiling blurb.  So it’s only fair to hand a gold star to Gollancz and Ace for having the same girl on the covers of all the books, with slickly sharp cover commentary that doesn’t tell half the story before we’ve opened the book.

The world is complicated – there are vampires, goblins, fae and witches, all with their own strengths and weaknesses and all operating largely beneath humanity’s radar. But what I particularly liked about this and the previous book, is McLeod’s plotting. Genny only has a vague inkling of what is going on, and a lot of that isn’t what it initially seems. So we go on a journey with the protagonist while the plot steadily unpeels, like an onion skin, presenting the actual storyline to be something quite different, with far higher stakes, than we or poor Genny initially realised.

We also learn a slice of Genny’s backstory – a bleak and dark slice. The initially chirpy tone of this book belies some of the more chilling undercurrents and this is one book I certainly would think twice before allowing a younger teen to read it. McLeod’s writing is for the grown-ups with some adult themes. And this adult was engrossed and entertained throughout and particularly enjoyed the dramatic and entirely convincing ending. I shall be looking around for the rest of the series and if you like your urban fantasy intelligently depicted with clever plotting, I recommend you give it a go.
9/10