Tag Archives: dark

Shadow Magic

Author: Joshua Khan

Shadow Magic, vol. 1

My rating: 3 of 5

Thorn just wanted to find his dad and bring him home, but somehow he’s been kidnapped by slavers, bought and made squire by the executioner Tyburn, and dragged off to the shadowy kingdom of Gehenna where the dead are rumored to walk. Meanwhile, Lilith Shadow (Lily to the friends she mostly doesn’t have anymore) has been forced to take up the mantle of leadership over Gehenna following the tragic death of the rest of her family. Political tensions, forbidden magic, loveless engagements, betrayals, and murder run rife as these two teenagers try to find a way through the chaos.

I should point out right from the start that most people seem to like Shadow Magic more than I did–my dad loved it enough to pass it on to me, and the average rating on Goodreads is a 4.14 at the moment. And I did enjoy the story for the most part in the moment, although I also have a number of issues with it. It’s a fast-paced read that never takes a breath–seriously, you’re thrown from one perilous situation to the next the entire time, which does increase the story’s stickiness and engagement factor but isn’t really the best way to go about doing so. And honestly, overall, the story just feels kind of tropey . . . although, maybe that’s not even quite right. It’s perfect, but in a way that feels like the author tried too hard, like it was run through an algorithm of “what should be in a story” and all the major plot points were spit out from there. Which, again, really isn’t fair because I know the author worked hard to be creative and original, but that’s just the feeling I come away with. There were certainly things I liked–the concept of an ancient giant bat, the spitfire princess  who breaks the rules, the boy who dares to defy those above him in station and befriend the princess. (But let’s be real, even those are kind of tropey . . . well, except the bat. That’s just plain cool.) Other things like the division of the kingdoms based on traditional elemental classes or the naming of everything in Gehenna based on dark, mythological things that are meaningful to some readers but have no contextual basis in the story world . . . I just don’t love those aspects of the story. As for the big whodunit mystery, it seems pretty obvious, and the red herring thrown into the mix just feels unnecessary. I guess I should remember that this book is written for a middle grade audience and is supposed to be exciting, fast-paced dark fantasy, but I would have still liked to see more real character development, some actual humor, a few moments to just pause and breathe. Not on my top recommendations, although it was an ok read and I think most people would likely enjoy it more than I did.

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Burnt Sugar (Short Story)

Author: Lish McBride

Firebug Story

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Ava and her friends Ezra and Lock are on a job–for the magical mafia, which, not their choice really but definitely their norm at this point. It ought to be a fairly simple task, present a sufficient show of force that the witch they’ve been sent to deal with pays up. Not too hard when you’ve got a werefox, a half-dryad, and oh, a girl who controls fire on your hands. But of course, things are never simple for these three.

I adore Lish McBride’s novel Firebug, so it was with delight that I discovered this digitally-released short story set in the same world and following the same three main characters. Chronologically within the story’s timeline, “Burnt Sugar” actually predates Firebug and gives us a good picture of an (honestly) pretty average mission for these three. Which isn’t to say the story’s average, by any means. It’s exciting and suspenseful, with a great sense of humor and some amazing friendships. Seriously, I just love these three and the relationship they share so, so much. And really, a plot that involves gingerbread houses, health-conscious witches, and a girl who can summon fire with just a thought–what’s not to love? Also, if you’re not familiar with this author/series and would like a sampling, “Burnt Sugar” actually provides sufficient information to appreciate the characters and what’s going on, while avoiding being a straight-up info dump. (Granted, if you’ve read Firebug, some of the information provided is unnecessary, but not annoyingly so.) I would definitely recommend this short story, honestly to a broad audience, although particularly to fans of quirky, funny urban fantasy.

Note: While this story is available for digital purchase, you can also read it for free on Tor.com at https://www.tor.com/2014/12/10/burnt-sugar-lish-mcbride/.

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Minor Mage (Novella)

Author: T. Kingfisher

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Oliver knew he wasn’t very impressive, only a twelve-year-old minor mage with three spells, an armadillo familiar, and a bit of herb lore. But he was all his small village had, and he did his best by them. Which is why it hurt all the more when it stopped raining and his small community turned into a mob, ready to force him to go to the Cloud Herders in the mountains to go get rain–because scared and ill-prepared or not, he had already been packing to go.

I’ve heard good things about the work of T. Kingfisher (pen name of Ursula Vernon) in the past, and having read Minor Mage, I get why. This novella (or short novel, nearly) is a delightful fantasy tale in so many ways. The main character isn’t some big, impressive individual who has it all together. He’s just a kid who tries, who cares what happens to others and does his best. So the story has an approachable “everyman” sort of feel to it. The writing is approachable as well, comfortable to just dive into and enjoy. And what a tale poor Oliver gets himself involved in! He’s got monsters trying to eat him, bandits kidnapping him, and a crooked mayor falsely accusing his friend. But that’s just it–he makes a friend along the way, a really interesting individual as well. Plus, there’s the armadillo, whose sarcastic humor and insight are a blast. And really, who would write an armadillo familiar? It’s brilliant. As far as intended audience, I do have to side with the author in saying it’s a children’s book, although one that could be greatly appreciated by adults as well; however, I can totally see how most adults would consider it too dark and violent for kids as well so . . . parental guidance recommended, I guess. In any case, I would definitely recommend Minor Mage as a fabulous fantasy coming-of-age story, and I’m planning to try more of the author’s work.

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In the Shadow of Spindrift House

Author: Mira Grant

My rating: 4 of 5

Harlowe and her friends have been there, done that. They’ve made a name for themselves as teen detectives. Solved cases adults wouldn’t touch, even some paranormal ones. But now they’re growing up, and Harlowe feels like they’re losing something, maybe losing each other. So in one last try to keep the group together and make it work, she brings them something special: a haunted house, tied to her own family history and possibly to her parents’ deaths, with a huge payout if they manage to find the original deed and find out who the house really belongs to. None of them can resist. But they aren’t the first who have ventured into the house. Who’s to say whether they’ll be the first to succeed and make it back out alive?

I really enjoyed In the Shadow of Spindrift House, a paranormal novella by Seanan McGuire, written under the pen name Mira Grant. Right off the bat, I loved the idea of teen detectives who have grown past the point where they can call themselves that, who have already had their popularity and are no longer cute. I mean, you see stories about kids going around solving mysteries and doing crazy stuff all the time. But what happens when those kids grow up? Are they able to adapt, or do they keep doing that crazy stuff . . . only now, it will get them killed or arrested or something? Just saying, it’s an interesting idea to play with, and I thought the author addressed it well, putting this solidly in a new adult fiction kind of genre. Only with lots of eerie paranormal stuff going on. I also liked the way the mystery and the atmospheric creepiness gradually built, tiny details adding up over the course of the story. The author also did a great job of creating characters and relationships that I cared about–enough so that certain parts of this story actually hurt, so fair warning there. There’s a certain lack of definition to some of the paranormal elements of this story, and I still can’t quite decide if there was enough definition, or if I would have preferred a bit more clarity. For instance, there’s a good bit of effort put into building the themes of nature and the sea, and we definitely can tell a lot just from that and from the historical stories that Harlowe and her friends uncover. But we never get a name for what we’re dealing with, or an actual explanation, or anything like that. So I guess I’d recommend this book for those who prefer things a bit more mysterious and open-ended. I would definitely recommend In the Shadow of Spindrift House, though, and I certainly intend to try more of the author’s writing.

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Lost Boys Don’t Cry (Teen Wolf Fanfic)

Author: CranApplePye

FanFiction ID: 11333656/AO3 ID: 4182462

Status: Complete (19 Chapters)

My rating: 5 of 5

Warning: Rated Mature – some language, but mostly ancient Mayan death maze with some strong horror elements; also, spoiler warning – this takes place after season 4 & contains spoilers up to that point.

Following a lead on a missing persons case somehow ends with a flash of green light, an explosion, and Scott and Stiles stuck in some mystical ancient Mayan labyrinth–and the rest of the pack left wondering if they’re even alive. Now these two best friends must overcome both the kidnappers/treasure hunters who want to use them and the maze that challenges them with puzzles and other obstacles at every turn to try to get home alive. But things just keep getting worse, more horrific, as they go, and the guilt of their pasts makes both of them individually doubt whether they should even try to stay alive. But then, could they bear to leave their best friend alone in a situation like this?

Lost Boys Don’t Cry was an excellent story, one I very much enjoyed reading. It’s listed under both the horror and hurt/comfort genres, so that should give an idea of the general flavor. But it manages to surpass what I generally expect of either story, giving a tale that is both gripping and endearing. The whole Mayan labyrinth setup, the puzzles and challenges it involves, the connections between it and the Nemeton, all of that is well thought out and actually adds a lot to the story. The elements of the unknown, of darkness, and of some mystical, ancient force at work all add a lot to the atmosphere as well. There’s a great sense of history to the setting, which is helped by the fact that the author clearly did some solid research. The juxtaposition of our delightful *sarcasm* treasure hunters against this setting is absolutely jarring in the best way possible. There’s such a tension developed as the reader just knows these people are messing things up horribly in their ignorance, not to mention that they’re just horrible people who are willing to repeatedly commit human sacrifice in order to get what they want. Yeah, so, human sacrifice . . . that’s a thing in this story, one of the reasons it’s rated M, so be aware of that going in. And if all this great writing discussed above weren’t enough, we’ve got the part we probably mainly come to this fanfic for–Scott and Stiles. The author does a fabulous job capturing their characters–everything from mannerisms to the way they process things to the awesome relationship these two have. I love that it’s written in such a way that it could be interpreted as pre-slash or as epic bromance; it’s awesome either way. I also really loved that the author developed their angst over all the crazy stuff that’s happened to them since the whole Nemeton thing . . . and allows them to actually work through some of that mentally and emotionally. So yes, Lost Boys Don’t Cry is a very dark, horrifying story, but it’s also brilliant and hopeful–one I would highly recommend to anyone who likes the series.

Note: You can find this fanfic on FFNet at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11333656/1/Lost-Boys-Don-t-Cry or on AO3 at https://archiveofourown.org/works/4182462/chapters/9445071.

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Living Dead in Dallas

Author: Charlaine Harris

Sookie Stackhouse, vol. 2

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience

Things in Sookie’s life had never been easy, what with her unwelcome gift/curse/whatever of telepathy, but they had definitely taken a turn for the stranger and more complicated once she started dating Bill, a vampire. Although the reprieve his presence gave her mind, what with being unable to read his, well . . . it certainly hadn’t been all bad, not by far. But Sookie’s life shows an extreme run of bad luck as she finds a coworker dead in the parking lot, gets summoned to Dallas to conduct telepathic interrogations, gets kidnapped, is attacked by a maenad, and fights with Bill. Not that she’s about to let all that stop her from investigating her friend’s murder and seeing justice done.

I found Living Dead in Dallas to be a solid follow-up to the first volume in the series, Dead Until Dark. It builds well upon the groundwork that was laid in the first book, developing Sookie and Bill’s relationship, getting Sookie further embroiled in vampire Eric’s schemes, and bringing some new mysteries and dangerous elements to add to the overall intensity of the story. The author does well keeping that small-town Southern girl vibe going, even when Sookie is dumped in the big city of Dallas and expected to manage. We get some solid character development in this volume as well–you’ve got a self-educated, smart woman who is very brave and has strong convictions . . . yet who is also remarkably brittle at times. She’s an interesting character. The story itself is kind of all over the place, but in a way that actually ties together eventually. There’s enough going on to keep things engaging, and the pacing is good. Other than a fair warning that this is definitely an adult book, I would generally recommend Living Dead in Dallas, especially to paranormal romance and mystery lovers.

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Taproot (Graphic Novel)

Author/Illustrator: Keezy Young

My rating: 5 of 5

Being a ghost, Blue had missed human interaction . . . until he found Hamal, a guy who can actually see and talk to ghosts. The two quickly become friends–okay, Blue maybe has fallen a bit in love–and the small gardening shop Hamal works at soon becomes a popular hangout for a number of lonely ghosts. But something dark is creeping into the area, and Hamal seems to be at the center of it all. How far will Blue have to go to protect the guy he cares for and the other ghosts?

Taproot was one of the most charming, refreshing stories I’ve read in a while. Originally a webcomic, it’s now available as an updated single-volume graphic novel. But yes, it has that independent, webcomic sort of feel, which is delightful. The main characters are just absolutely lovable and sweet; like, I wanted things to work out well for them right from the start. And, not to give away too many spoilers, but I promise, they do get their happy ending. The art is really nice–distinctive and attractive. I really love the mix of bright colors with dark, especially the way the panels are overlapped to provide a fade-in at certain points. It’s used well to emphasize the contrast of light and darkness in the plot itself. As for the plot, again, a good mix of feel-good fluff and eeriness that resolves well and left me feeling happy. Taproot is the perfect sort of story for when you need something short to cheer you up and make you believe in hope again.

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