The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack

Subtitle

Urban Fantasy

Urban Fantasy


Dead in the Water by Blodwedd Mallory

In the third novel of the series, Mallory returns to Solomon Island to try and resolve the zombie situation which has lingered from the first book. She’s a full Templar now and acts with a bit more confidence than she did in the previous two stories as she and a growing cast of secret-society types investigate the cause of the zombie infestation and discover connections to a much larger problem.


Like the other books in the series, this one is fast moving and fun, but there were a couple of minor points that didn’t make a lot of sense to me. For example, the Templars sent Mallory into action without any type of briefing on the monster they already knew to be there—the zombies. While it’s been made quite clear that the resources of the Templars are overstretched, is it really plausible that Mallory’s superiors would not provide her with such basic information as zombies are attracted to loud noises? I think the problem comes from the game roots of the series. Some of the dialogue comes across as an NPC giving a mission to a player. The lack of training has the same feel to it.


These small problems aside, this is a worthy sequel to the first two novels and it builds to an intensely exciting, action-packed conclusion. I look forward to reading the next one.

London Underground by Blodwedd Mallory

Mallory comes out swinging in this second volume of her Legend of the Secret World series. Our heroine, Bloodwedd, has graduated high school and is finally going to get her chance to join the Templars. Unfortunately, every senior Templar she meets seems to have a serious stick stuck up their rectum and they do not appreciate her willingness to jump in and tackle any problem she sees. They also don’t appear to properly appreciate her intuitive grasp of the many sticky situations she finds herself in which leads her to solutions that have evaded her more experienced superiors. In short, most of the Templars come off as being married to their bureaucracy in a way designed to stifle innovation and irritate the reader. The cold shoulder Blodwedd receives from so many in authority probably explains why she doesn’t tell them about the most interesting thing happening to her—a series of much too life-like dreams.


These dreams are by far the best part of a very enjoyable novel. In the dreams, Blodwedd finds herself in Japan in the body of another woman fighting a supernatural threat known as the Filth. In her waking life, it quickly becomes clear that Japan is involved in some sort of mega crisis. The only disappointing thing about this novel was that we don’t have resolution on this storyline yet. Bad things are happening and it feels like it could easily spiral into a zombie-apocalypse level disaster (not that the Filth is composed of zombies).


I’m eagerly awaiting the next book in this series. Despite my comments above, some of the rank and file Templars are turning into great supporting cast characters and I’m eager to see what Mallory plans to do with all of them.

To Sir, with Love by Blodwedd Mallory

This novel is a lot of fun. It’s an urban fantasy setting told from the perspective of a young woman who was about to graduate from her magical high school when the apocalypse happened. That makes it sound like the secret of magic is now out in the world, but frankly, I’m not certain that’s the case. There is a lot of talk of secret societies such as the Templars and the Illuminati and I doubt that they would need to be secret if everyone knew about the supernatural.


That confusion aside, this is a fast-moving book about a young woman and her best friend who have to stop a wraith from killing the headmaster of their school. Complicating that significant problem are several hundred familiars that have been raised from their graves in the basement by the onset of the apocalypse and want nothing more than to kill everyone remaining in the school. It’s a tough situation for two teenagers to be in and Mallory handles it with a lot of skill.


As the efforts to stop the wraith become increasingly sophisticated, we learn a lot about how magic works in this world. I found the chaos-aspected magic the most interesting, especially the ability to step out of time and look at different outcomes that can flow from the caster’s magic—none of which seem to work out exactly as hoped.


I enjoyed this book enough that halfway through I bought the sequel novel, London Underground. In the afterward at the end of the book, I learned the story was based on a game system. That makes sense after the fact, but the book stood on its own and you don’t have to know anything about the game to enjoy it.


Monster Hunter Memoirs: Saints by John Ringo and Larry Correia

After looking forward to this novel for a year, I almost didn’t read it because it quickly became apparent that this great subseries of Correia’s Monster Hunter books was the last about Chad Gardenier. You can’t help but love Chad and the thought that this was his last adventure was heartbreaking (not surprising, but it’s set in the past and we all knew when Chad is going to die from the beginning, but heartbreaking none the less). So I read it with a heavy heart and loved every page. I loved it so much I had to resist the urge to put it down and pick up the first two books in the trilogy to reread them and make certain I was totally up on what was happening. Not one page was disappointing. It’s a fabulous combination of hard action and genuine world building that (thanks to Correia) fits seamlessly with the main series. And then, as a reward for my loyal reading, the novel ends with a ray of hope—not for Chad—that I’m praying means Ringo will be teaming up with Correia to give us a new little sub series like this one. I hope they are both reading this and remember that it’s okay to tease as long as they come through with the new stories.

Monster Hunter Siege by Larry Correia

I am somewhat surprised to learn that this is the first novel I’ve reviewed by Larry Correia. I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed all the books in the Monster Hunter Series plus his Grimnoir Chronicle and I’d be happy to try anything else he’s written. Aside from interesting characters and hard-biting action, Correia has that gift of presenting something you think you know all about in a different, fascinating, and often hilarious way. So he has nasty old-world trolls who love the internet and surf it better than anyone. He’s got a geek cyclops. His gnomes are all gangsta and well you get the picture. Correia’s books are just fun!


The Monster Hunter Series is a refreshing take on the rather well-worn idea that creatures of myth and legend really do exist in our world. The Monster Hunters are private contractors who risk their lives (for a good payday) to eliminate the monsters when they appear. The governments of the world often seem more interested in covering up the existence of the monsters than in actually winning the war against them.


This latest volume chronicles the effort to take the fight to a near-godly-powered entity instead of waiting for him to make his next bid to bring about the apocalypse. While it’s the weakest of the Monster Hunter books so far, most of the time I was reading it I greatly resented any interruption that made me put it down. The stakes are huge and getting even larger, and the cliff-hanger at the end which sets up the next novel is terribly painful. This is a series you really ought to give a try.

Cat Tales by Faith Hunter

Cat Tales by Faith Hunter is a collection of short stories from the Jane Yellowrock universe. The Yellowrock novels compose one of the best urban fantasy vampire series on the market today. As anyone who reads this genre knows, most of these series focus on the supernatural rivalries between various groups of preternatural beings (vampires, weres, etc.) and are often seen from the POV of a protagonist drawn into their world from the outside. That’s true in the Yellowrock novels as well. But what puts this series above the pack is the dual-souled nature of our heroine, Jane Yellowrock, a Cherokee skinwalker who has the spirit of a mountain lion (called Beast) sharing her body. Jane is a solid character with well-thought out powers, but it is Beast and her simple predator instincts and wisdom which makes Jane super cool. This series should be read by everyone who enjoys an action filled book about the supernatural.


The first story, “The Early Years,” isn’t really a short story. It’s the unfinished lead in to what probably should have been a novella. It’s still a must read for any fan of the series as it offers a glimpse at Jane’s time in the orphanage and shows her rediscovery of her powers. But be forewarned, it will definitely leave you wondering what happened to the rest of the tale.

“Cat Tats” is a complete story, fleshing out the background of Rick LaFleur, one of the awesome support cast in Jane’s world. Rick has some elaborate cat-themed tattoos on his body and this story shows how and why he got them. Without spoiling the story, I think I can safely say that no one would want to get their tattoos this way.


“Kits” explores how Jane became best friends with earth witch Molly Everhart. It’s the best story in the batch and certainly isn’t hurt by providing a vital role for my favorite character, Beast. There are a lot of threads seamlessly woven together in this story and if you’ve never read any of the Jane Yellowrock books, this little story will draw you in and whet your appetite for more.


“Blood, Fangs and Going Fury,” is a treat for fans of the series who would like a gap between two of the novels filled in for them. In Mercy Blade things go badly wrong for Rick LaFleur with the promise of more pain and torment for him after the novel ends. This story shows just how terrible his life has become. Even better, it is simply beautifully written. Faith Hunter’s poetic descriptions bring the reality of Rick’s newly heightened senses to life. They are a true pleasure to read.


Ms. Hunter is at her best writing full length novels but this collection of stories is well worth the money. 


Have Stakes Will Travel by Faith Hunter

In Have Stakes Will Travel, Faith Hunter fills in more of the background of Jane Yellowrock and her strange group of friends. I’ve already praised the series at some length in my review of Cat Tales so instead of repeating myself here, I’m going to jump right into my reactions to the four short stories in this collection.


WeSa and the Lumber King: As I noted in an earlier review, I am a big fan of the character Beast. This spirit of a mountain lion trapped with Jane in her body is a lot of what gives this series it’s unique tone, bringing me eagerly back to each successive novel. So I was thrilled to find that this entire story is told from Beast’s perspective. For an indeterminate number of years (running in the decades) before Jane wandered out of the woods back into human society as a feral child, Beast was in control of their body prowling the Appalachian Mountains in big cat form. Their range is slowly being destroyed by the encroaching white man. Game is fleeing, trees are being cut down, rivers clogged and fouled. Beast decides to strike back at the white man in peculiarly Beast fashion. The story didn’t quite work for me, but I enjoyed Hunter’s attempt.


Haints: Haints is a short story that captures the excitement and mystery of the Jane Yellowrock novels. It’s a simply wonderful tale told from the POV of Molly Everhart Trueblood, an earth witch who is also Jane’s best friend. The reader gets to try and solve the mystery alongside Jane and Molly and watch as our heroines deal with an intriguing problem and finally it’s tragic resolution. The story also introduces a great new supporting character, a local police detective named Brax.


Signatures of the Dead: This story is in my view the most important of the short stories in the two collections (Cat Tales and Have Stakes Will Travel). This is the event alluded to from the beginning of the series in which Jane makes her reputation as a Vampire Hunter. It’s a gritty frightening tale of insane rogue vampires praying on a community and it strikes close to home when Molly’s pregnant sister is captured by the creatures. Like Haints, this story reads with all the depth and color of Hunter’s novels. It’s exceedingly well done.


Cajun with Fangs: This story also reads like one of Ms. Hunter’s novels. Jane’s motorcycle breaks down in a small bayou town and Jane gets pulled into a centuries old feud between witches and vampires. It’s intense with satisfying twists and turns. Jane is required to be both tough and very intelligent. The only problem with the story is that one of the locals speaks in dialect and it gets very trying. The “dialect” issue is often an unwinnable problem for authors. People do speak differently. If you pretend that they don’t your stories lack an important element of authenticity. If you show the dialect, it can distract from the tale. On reflection, Ms. Hunter walks the line between these problems very well.


Have Stakes Will Travel is a much stronger collection of stories than is found in Cat Tales. Both are worth your money.

Lucius Fogg 1 Deadly Creatures by Dan Wickline

Dan Wickline’s urban fantasy series is built upon the Nero Wolfe model established by Rex Stout. Lucius Fogg is a master sorcerer—perhaps the greatest alive in post World War II New York City—but he has one significant restraint on his power. If he takes even one step outside of his home, he will die. To get around this difficulty, he employs private detective Jimmy Doyle to do his legwork for him as he investigates supernatural phenomenon that catch his interest.


Jimmy Doyle is a World War II vet who took a bullet to the head and spent three months in a coma. He only woke up because Fogg sent a magical pendant to him which a nurse hung around his neck. Now he has a metal plate in his head (more on this later) together with a strong sense of justice. He’s also got a lot of attitude that makes you wonder why he doesn’t get slugged more by the men he provokes.


The final piece of background that is critical to understanding this series is that most Americans do not believe in the supernatural even though quite a few of those creatures live among them.


The novel opens with a peculiar instance of a man following Doyle, wanting Lucius Fogg’s help, but panicking and running before Doyle can find out what he wants. He darts into the street and gets hit by a van seemingly closing the strange encounter. A few days later, women start to die in a peculiar fashion and a police detective who has reluctantly come to know that the supernatural is real, asks Fogg for his help. That mystery takes up half the novel and is thoroughly enjoyable, pulling all the early threads together. In resolving the case we get introduced to the supernatural world. But in closing the case, questions Fogg does not want to pursue get opened and Doyle’s sense of justice leads him to quit Fogg’s employ so he can pursue justice on his own.


This is where things get very interesting. We learn that the relative peace that New York City enjoys was built upon a compact by Fogg, the chief vampire and werewolf of New York, and a famous hunter who had been trying to kill off all the supernatural creatures in the city. This compact kept NYC from breaking out into total war at the price of Old Town (about thirty blocks of the city) being turned over to the supernaturals. New Yorkers believe this is an area of such tremendous crime that not even the police go there, but those in the know understand the truth. Now, the compact appears to be in violation as werewolves are being seen killing people outside of Old Town.


The resolution of this mystery is very exciting, but there are some problems with it which I’m going to discuss next. So be forewarned, SPOILERS are ahead.


The compact was made necessary by the tremendous immigration of supernaturals to New York City from elsewhere—especially Europe. All werewolves and vampires in the city came to Old Town when Fogg cast the spell that formed the compact—basically limiting those creatures (and their progeny) to Old Town. This ignores the fact that it is immigration which was helping to cause the problem and presumably would continue after the compact was made. New immigrants would not be bound by the compact but apparently this never occurs to anyone. It’s especially troubling that no one even considers this possibility when they start finding new werewolves operating in the city. This is a serious flaw in the plot.


It also appears that new vampires and werewolves have been creates since the compact but this would seem to be impossible under the terms of the compact. Maybe I’m incorrect about this, but it struck me as a significant inconsistency.


The next complaint may be unfair, but the reader is constantly reminded that Jimmy Doyle has a metal plate in his head. Unfortunately, the plate is forgotten when Jimmy gets infected with lycanthropy and transforms. I don’t know that this would cause problems, but it would seem that the plate would have to be moved around by transforming in and out of wolf form and this is never addressed.


These are small complaints but they bothered me as I first read and thought about the book. That didn’t stop me from rereading the novel, however. If you like a good mystery with some supernatural elements, you’ll enjoy this series.

Lucius Fogg 2 Malicious Intent by Dan Wickline 

The second book in this series has a lot to do with the mysterious past of the sorcerer, Lucius Fogg. It opens with the ghost of an angry sorceress who has been secretly living in Fogg’s house taking possession of Jimmy Doyle’s girlfriend and matters quickly go from bad to worse. Fogg’s old nemesis—Kieran Drake—the man who killed him 65 years before resulting in Fogg being trapped in his house—has returned to get his vengeance and in so doing expose the supernatural world to the mundane citizens of New York City. Old Town is exposed and Drake announces he’s running for mayor and suddenly (through magic?) is the most popular man in the city. Yet none of this makes sense to Fogg, who can’t believe that Drake would care about mundane power.


There’s a lot of pain in this book for Jimmy Doyle who learns that the stakes of being a sorcerer’s leg man (actually he discovers—much to his personal discomfort—that he’s Fogg’s apprentice) are even more serious than he ever dreamed. This suffering further humanizes Doyle and really adds power to the book. Doyle functions in a world where supernatural threats are common place and while his friends insist on helping him, they are not equipped to survive these perils, and the strain of putting them in danger is getting to Doyle.


Drake’s plot is probably the best part of the novel. When you finally figure out what he’s working toward, and how becoming mayor of NYC can help his decidedly supernatural plan succeed you’ll be shivering with horror and excitement. There’s an awful lot that’s great about this novel and if you like good mysteries in an urban fantasy setting, you’ll want to read it.


Lucius Fogg 3 Educated Corpses by Dan Wickline

Jimmy Doyle gets a call from his original mentor, a private investigator named Elias Chandler, asking for his help. Chandler and Doyle had a falling out years ago, but that doesn’t stop Doyle from running to meet him at the zoo. Unfortunately, when he gets there, Chandler is already dead and a gorilla—also supposedly dead—is on the rampage. And matters only get more bizarre from there.


In this third book in the series, Wickline pulls together many of the threads left dangling from the first two novels to produce an exciting and satisfying story, wrapped around an interesting mystery. The Compact between the vampires, werewolves, sorcerers and humans is fracturing after the events of the first and second novel. Doyle finds himself using magic he doesn’t remember learning. And now the dead are coming back to life—not as vampires—but through a disturbing mixture of magic and science. Doyle and Fogg have their hands full this time and I thoroughly enjoyed their adventure.


As a final note, I’d like to observe that it’s been three years since Educated Corpses was published. Mr. Wickline, when are we going to get book four?

Blood Prism by E.E. King

This is a beautifully written book with an unusual, heavily descriptive, almost poetic style. There’s not a lot of dialogue and that troubled me a little at first, but the short chapters quickly pulled me in to the parallel lives of Neal and Aidan from their extreme youth to the end of the novel. Neal brings hope and happiness into people’s lives while Aidan brings only misery, fear and despair—although not usually through any overt acts of his own. It amazes me that King somehow succeeded in making a character whom no one likes and whom everyone is uncomfortable around charming in his own sad way.


This book is inundated in what I would call the “casual supernatural”. It’s all about atmosphere instead of plot. The Fates of Greek mythology overtly manipulate every aspect of the book. In addition, supernatural creatures—vampires, werewolves, minor gods, ghosts—flitter through most of the pages, as does small, potent, but generally unconscious magic. I’d say these supernatural elements drive the plot, but I’m not sure this book has a plot. It certainly doesn’t need one. It’s like a gorgeous intricate painting of a series of lives—endlessly fascinating, telling small stories, but only creating a larger picture in retrospect once the reader has finished. Blood Prism is definitely worth your time.



Bill the Vampire by Rick Gualtieri

Bill Rider is a geek who thinks he’s finally got a shot at scoring with a beautiful woman. Unfortunately, she’s a vampire and he’s the lonesome loser—big time. Now Bill is undead too and trying to figure out how to survive. Much to his disappointment, becoming undead didn’t make him graceful, or handsome or ready for a role on True Blood. It also didn’t dispose of his pesky conscience. All of which make him the very opposite of apex predator and pretty funny to follow.


Spider's Bite by Jennifer Estep

The opening book in the Elemental Assassin series is a fast-paced, enjoyable romp through the southern city of Ashland run by a mix of wealthy humans, elemental wizards, giants, vampires, dwarfs and what have you. Gin, the main character, a top-notch assassin known as The Spider, has a lot of sparky attitude and generally makes a fun heroine. The opening scene is perfect for capturing the assassin at her work and makes her an instantly lovable character.


The plot of the novel is that Gin is set up to take the fall for an assassination. In covering up the crime, the people behind the setup also torture and kill her mentor. Gin wants revenge and the rest of the novel chronicles her efforts to find out who is behind the betrayal and making them pay.


To complicate matters, Ashland’s one honest cop, Donovan Caine, is smack in the middle of Gin’s problems. He knows—contrary to the city’s corrupt account of events—that Gin didn’t murder the victim. He also knows she’s on the wrong side of the law. The question is, can he work with Gin to find out what really happened or will he turn on her and arrest her as his superiors want? Of course, as has become an expectation of the genre, there is tremendous sexual tension between cop and assassin, although it’s overplayed early on throwing into question just how professional Gin really is.


Overall, I enjoyed this book, but I do have two major problems with it in addition to the aforementioned overplaying of the sexual tension. First, in working with Donovan Caine Gin loses any pretense at being a professional. She brings him to her apartment. She introduces him to her best friend. She talks about critical details that could let him identify her in front of him. She exposes critical contacts to him all while apparently not intending to kill him when the need to work with him was done. And all of this while he is insisting he will turn on her as soon as he doesn’t need her anymore. Needless to say, this was crazy.


In addition, Gin is a stone elemental. Among her powers is her ability to harden her skin so that she is immune to little things like gunfire. Yet Gin doesn’t want to use her magic because she fears it will make her overdependent on it and weak. This might make sense when she decides to stab someone instead of collapsing a building on top of him. (She also argues that such overt use of magic would attract too much attention.) But when a fellow assassin gets the drop on her with a pistol and she refuses to make her skin hard enough to be immune to his bullets (taking a wound for her stubbornness) this makes her look stupid and insane—not the consummate professional she keeps insisting she is. To make matters worse, when she finally does use her magic to harden her skin, one of the bad guys punches rattle her when bullets don’t. This is a major problem that appears to have derived from Estep’s inability to think of a better way to threaten Gin than pointing a gun at her.


That being said, it’s still a fun story and the series shows a lot of potential.

Web of Lies by Jennifer Estep

The second book of the Elemental Assassin series has more of the strengths and weaknesses of the first. It’s got a fun main character with the right kind of bad attitude and a weakness for helping people in distress. There are good action scenes that keep you flipping pages as we watch our heroine take on the bad guys. There are a couple of different mysteries unfolding--some central to the current plot and some setting up later adventures. And the supporting cast also works pretty well.


On the downside, our assassin just can’t stop telling people what she does for a living despite being at least nominally “retired”. This is especially dumb since it is becoming apparent that the big bad fire elemental who runs Ashland is becoming interested in her. It also defies sense--there is no way that a person with Gin’s lack of a filter on her mouth could have remained an anonymous assassin for all of these years.


That being said, Gin’s new problem--helping an old friend of her dead mentor to keep from being driven off his land by a mining firm--is a good challenge for our friendly neighborhood killer of bad guys and it gives her many good opportunities to show off her talents. We also get introduced to a new potential love interest which is good because the old one (honest cop Donovan Caine) was never going to work out in the long run.


In fact, Donovan Caine is the best drawn character in the novel. He likes Gin. Frankly, he’s obsessed with her. He wants to be with her. But he is never going to be able to accept her world view. He is, at heart, an honest cop who is being forced by Gin to confront the fact that his town is too corrupt for influential villains to ever be brought to justice. Yet, that doesn’t mean that he can live with the concept that killing those villains is the only alternative. That internal conflict causes a lot of pain for both Donovan and Gin. It’s ultimately a situation that can’t go on forever and I was glad that Estep realized that and came up with a believable solution to the problem. I’d like to see more of this supporting character in the future.





Winter’s Web by Jennifer Estep

Winter’s Web is a quick short story about Jenifer Estep’s Elemental Assassin, Gin. I have only read the first few books of the series but it was easy to pick up what was going on. Gin is still full of self-confidence and attitude and the boyfriend she picked up after cop, Donovan Caine, left town is still with her. They are going to a Renaissance Festival called Winter’s Web to try and forget their problems for a while. But, something about the way people keep staring at Gin has her somewhat paranoid sense of danger screaming that there is trouble at the Festival. When three giants try to follow her about, her feelings are confirmed, so she ambushes them and things quickly go to hell. It’s a diverting short story—perfect for both old fans and for anyone thinking about giving the series a try.