This is the first of my new alternate Tuesday reading posts, so I thought I’d dip back in time to tell you about three books that are each the first in their own well-loved series. They all owe something to Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden novels (which I love), but each one is different and stands up on its own.
Enjoyable urban fantasy romp set in London and featuring Alex Verus, a mage whose main magical talent is that of a diviner, someone who sees all possible futures and can therefore (usually) figure out what to do next. His actual magical talent – other than that – is fairly low-key, but don’t underestimate him. He keeps a magic shop, the Arcana Emporium in Camden Town, where canal meets railway line meets leyline, and generally tries to stay under the radar of more powerful magicians, particularly the dark ones, having had a nasty experience in his past.
Unfortunately a bunch of powerful magicians, opposing factions of the dark and the light, have decided Alex’s talents can help them to unlock the secrets of a powerful artefact and both he and his friend Luna, herself under a longstanding family curse, are drawn into danger. If the artefact doesn’t kill them the magicians trying to get at what’s inside it will. Alex has to face up to his dark past if he’s going to have any future.
Alex is an engaging protagonist, a genuine nice guy with decent values, but a problem past. I now buy each one of this series as it comes out.
Kevin Hearne: Hounded – Iron Druid #1
Atticus O’Sullivan is the last (real) druid. he’s been on the run from Aenghus Óg: Celtic god of love, who has been pursuing Atticus for over two thousand years to retrieve the Fragarach, a sword of unearthly power that Atticus acquired on the battlefield. Currently Atticus, a permanent twenty-something in appearance, is the proprietor of the Third Eye bookstore in Tempe, Arizona, about as far away from any portals available to malevolent Irish gods as he can get, but Atticus is getting fed up of running, so when he gets several warnings that Aenghus Óg is getting close he decides to stand his ground.
There are some good characters including Oberon: Atticus’ Irish Wolfhound who communicates telepathically with Atticus and has some snappy dialogue (and for a talking dog is quite an engaging character and very dog oriented). Atticus himself narrates the story in first person and since he’s got two millennia worth of knowledge and experience, nothing much comes as a surprise to him, so it’s not a question of figuring out what next but more about Atticus figuring out how to deal with what’s next.
In addition to Irish gods from the Tuatha Dé Danann, some friendly, some not and all forming factions, Atticus’ attourney is a werewolf and the boss of the law firm is a vampire (cue the occasional joke). There’s also Granuaile: barmaid at the local Irish theme pub, who is currently possessed by an Indian witch and interested in taking up the magic trade.
As a first outing it lives up to expectations as a fast paced, engaging urban fantasy with mythic overtones.
Isaac Vainio is a Libriomancer, and has the ability to magically reach into books and acquire objects. His speciality is SF. He’s currently working as a small-town librarian and part time cataloguer for the secret magical society, the Porters, for which he used to be a field agent until he broke some serious rules. Unfortunately when you reach into books, they sometimes reach back. Forbidden to use magic, all he has left of his former life is a magical and somewhat neurotic fire-spider called Smudge who has a tendency to burst into flames at the first sign of danger.
When Isaac is attacked by a bunch of vampires, he’s saved by Lena, a tough, sexy, magically created dryad who brings bad news with her, her lover, Vainio’s former shrink, has been taken by vampires and Lena needs Isaac’s help in a rather strange way.
But this attack is just the tip of a very nasty iceberg. There have been other attacks on Porters. Isaac’s own former friend and mentor has been killed and Gutenberg (yes, that one) the founder of the Porters and the only controller of unstoppable automatons, is missing. Isaac and Lena have to trace the dark power behind the vampire attacks before there’s an all-out, bloody war between the vamps and the Porters which will expose the magical world once and for all, and not in a good way.
This is fast paced, extremely readable and Isaac is a complex character, sympathetic despite his failings. The magic system is neat. Anything that’s been written about can be brought into reality (one of the vamp species is instantly recognisable because they sparkle!) though generally Libriomancers are limited by the physical size of the page of the book, so Isaac can grab a laser pistol from a space opera or a syringe of truth serum (from Barrayar as it turns out), but he can’t grab a tank. There are limits. It’s not as if each book is an unlimited cornucopia. There’s always a price to pay and for Isaac, who has transgressed before, that price is his sanity, presuming the bad guys don’t kill him first.
If you haven’t tried any of these series, they’re all excellent. You can’t go wrong with any of them. If I had to pick a favourite it would probably be the Alex Verus books, but I like them all.