Wednesday, September 30, 2015

#Wednesday Review - The Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson (Young Adult, Fantasy)

Series: The Remnant Chronicles # 2
Format: Hardcover, 470 pages
Release Date: July 7, 2015
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Intrigue abounds in this hotly anticipated sequel to The Kiss of Deception!

Held captive in the barbarian kingdom of Venda, Lia and Rafe have little chance of escape. Desperate to save her life, Lia's erstwhile assassin, Kaden, has told the Vendan Komizar that she has the gift, and the Komizar's interest in Lia is greater than anyone could have foreseen.

Meanwhile, nothing is straightforward: there's Rafe, who lied to Lia, but has sacrificed his freedom to protect her; Kaden, who meant to assassinate her but has now saved her life; and the Vendans, whom Lia always believed to be barbarians. Now that she lives amongst them, however, she realizes that may be far from the truth. Wrestling with her upbringing, her gift, and her sense of self, Lia must make powerful choices that will affect her country... and her own destiny.

The Heart of Betrayal is the second installment in The Remnant Chronicles by author Mary E. Pearson. Betrayal picks up pretty much where The Kiss of Deception left off. After being dragged across an entire continent by Kaden and his ilk, Lia and Prince "Rafe" Rafferty arrive in Venda as prisoners. Kaden has kept Lia (aka Jezelia aka Princess Arabella of Morrighan) alive by claiming that she has the gift. Readers get their first look now only at the harsh conditions of Vendan, but also at their leader called the Komizar who ends up having more than a keen interest in Lia's so called gift.

I really struggled with writing this review, which is why it took me 6 days to get to it. I think Pearson definitely raised her game to the highest levels this time out. I am not hesitant in saying that THIS book was even more clever, more intense, and more entertaining that Kiss was. While the ever annoying triangle of love was present, we do get a better understanding of each of the characters while adding some interesting background to Lia's "gift" that is actually real. We also get several POV's switches which includes not only Lia, Rafe, and Kaden, but Pauline who was left behind by Lia, and now has her own challenges to deal with. 

I found the entire gift story very appealing and want to know where Pearson is heading with it. Readers now know that Lia's isn't just a special snow flake. She's the real deal. She actually has some talents including the ability to see into the future. I also felt as though Lia's relationship with Rafe was better expanded especially since he's gone all native in order to protect her. It's hard for me to deal with triangles, but if they are done correctly, and without malice towards either character, then I can bite my tongue and get over myself. I do think that both men love Lia in their own way. I do believe that I will stand by my assessment that Rafe is the better candidate for Lia, but Kaden's surprise announcement to Lia about their future, raises some doubts in my mind.

I definitely feel for Lia though. She's done the best that she could under difficult choices and still makes some mistakes. In fact, I absolutely agree now with her decision to flee her kingdom and seek her own future while also getting a bit of a backbone to her. Then again, she has watched as a loved ones were brutally murdered, and now her entire kingdom is blaming her for what happened. One might start asking themselves why anyone would want to go back to that environment unless it was to pay back her detractors and betrayers. I loved that the people of Vendan felt a connection to Lia. I loved that they came out to hear her story telling. I dare say that she was a bright light in an otherwise dark, dreary, and dangerous city.

One of my favorite characters in this book was Aster. I adored her, and her relationship with Lia. I absolutely felt heartbroken thanks to the Komizar's actions. Komizar is a character who is definitely a brilliant strategist and leader. He rules with an iron fist, but his people bear the brunt of his agenda which reminds me of some Middle East and African Henchmen who ride around in the lap of luxury, while their people are starving to death. Komizar has some interesting people surrounding him which just creep me out. I am definitely eager to see what Pearson does after leaving readers with a major cliffhanger.

I sound like a broken record at times, but I do recommend that you read Kiss of Deception before this book. I love when authors summarize the events that happened in previous books, but in this case, you would do yourself a favor by re-reading, or waiting until the entire trilogy is out in print. As for me, I make notes while reading books. Helps me remember key events and characters. I can also go back to said notes before proceeding with the next book. As a reader of 300 plus books a year, I just don't have time to re-read anything. Maybe when I'm sitting in a nursing home by myself, I'll re-read the books I enjoyed the best. 

Previous Book in Series:

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

#Tuesday Review - The Summer Marked by Rebekah L. Purdy (Young Adult, Fantasy)

Series: The Winter People # 2
Format: E-Galley, 304 pages
Release Date: September 22, 2015
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

The sequel to the chilling Winter People returns to the world of Faerie, and is a romantic and enchanting follow-up.

Salome left humankind behind to be with her boyfriend, Gareth, in the Kingdom of Summer. But now forces of darkness are rising. Her happily-ever-after is coming apart, and the Kingdom is on the brink of war. 

Newly-single Kadie Byers is on her way home for Thanksgiving, imagining a visit filled with hot chocolate, a hot guy for a little rebound action, and some girl time with her bestie, Salome. Except she receives a message from Salome with two important words: PLEASE HURRY.

When Kadie rushes to help Salome, she’s ripped from the human world and pulled into the kingdoms of Faerie, where she's shocked to learn that Salome's monsters are real, and that she's now at the mercy of one extremely vengeful Winter Queen... 

Now both Salome and Kadie must find a way to survive the deadly chaos...or lose themselves to Winter's deadly, icy grasp.

The Summer Marked is the second installment in The Winter People series by author Rebekah L. Purdy. The story picks up not long after Salome Montgomery left the human world to travel to Faerie with her betrothed Gavin. While The Winter People was mostly about Salome, this time her best friend Kadie gets a turn to either put up or fade away into the background. And, put up she does. I never thought I would see the day where the Prologue and Epilogue were more informative than the rest of the story. If you miss certain facets of each, you will totally be in the dark as to what is happens to Salome in this book, and why.

We really get a better look at the war between the Winter and Summer Courts almost right from the beginning. We get to meet the nasty evil queen Grisselle who embraced darkness, and destroyed the courts of Spring and Autumn, and now wants to wrap her hands around Salome's throat and squeeze. The court of Winter is a dark, nasty place with creatures right out of the Brothers Grimm. There was a particular question about a character that went missing in the previous book after he became someone not recognized by his family. No worries readers. Purdy actually ties up that loose end rather nicely. 

I didn't care all that much for Nevin no matter how hard he tries to say that everything he's done, including lying and betraying Salone, was for the good of his people, the Summer Court. Nevin is a controlling, manipulative, arrogant, and puzzling character who continues to interfere in Salome's relationship with Gavin. A relationship, I must say, that Salome CHOOSE after being kept in the dark for almost 11 years by Nevin and others in her own family. A relationship that truly bears no resemblance to what happened in the previous installment thanks to the Winter Queen's antics, and some difficult challenges facing Salome.

Salome isn't the same character that she was in The Winter People. She's growing into some wondrous and unknown powers. She's finding allies and goes on a search for answers to what is happening to her. She continues to try to remain faithful to Gareth, but Nevin is just as thick as they come and refuses to let go. While Salome is finding her own path and hopefully a happy ending, Kadie keeps being thick headed. I wasn't a fan of Kadie's in the first book. Although she was Salome's best friend who put a whole lot of time into their friendship, she makes bad choices. Bad choices that get worse by the chapter until you no longer recognize her at all.

Readers will get a whole new cast of characters this time around. There's Dorsinae, Griselle, Lachlin, Etienne, Teodor, and Lord Darach of the Autumn kingdom who becomes friends and perhaps a guiding force as well. As for Kadie, the old saying of you can't always get what you want, must have not sunk into her thick head. I did like the possibility of Etienne and Kadie however. Guess we shall see what the next installment brings. I have to ask Purdy if Kadie's actions were because of the Queen's actions, or was this actually in her heart all the time?

**I received this book for free from (Publisher) via (NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**

Monday, September 28, 2015

#Monday Review - Fractured by Sarah Fine (Young Adult, Fantasy)

Series: Guards of the Shadowlands # 2
Format: Paperback, 448 pages
Release Date: October 29, 2013
Publisher: Skyscape
Source: ARC Trade
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

In the week since Lela returned to Rhode Island, local news has been dominated by chilling sightings of human-like creatures running on all fours. Lela knows there’s only one explanation: the Mazikin have arrived in the land of the living.

Needing to maintain the appearance of a normal life, Lela returns to Warwick High along with Malachi. At night they hunt for the Mazikin nest along with two new Guards. Jim, one rogue recruit, repeatedly challenges Lela’s authority. Lela struggles to keep all her Guards on the right side of the law, but their mistakes come at a terrible cost.

As one painful revelation follows another and the Mazikin start targeting those closest to her, Lela finds herself more vulnerable than ever. With an enemy determined to separate soul from body, Lela must decide how much she’s willing to sacrifice to protect those she loves.

Fractured is the second installment in the Guards of the Shadowlands series by author Sarah Fine. Fine has moved her story from the darkness of the Shadowlands, to the human world where things are about ready to get pretty damn interesting. One thing remains the same; Fine's world is dark, dangerous, gritty, action-packed, and at times, heartbreaking. I'll keep this as spoiler free as I can, but I will say that I would recommend that you pick up this book knowing that anything can happen to anyone and nobody is immune from being brutalized by Ms. Fine.

It has been one week since Lela Santos agreed to become a Guard of the Shadowlands and returned home to Rhode Island. Lela is now a Captain whose job it is to hunt down the escaped Mazikin and dispose of them quickly and quietly. Lela's team now includes Malachi Sokol, who is her Lieutenant; Jim, a Guard from the Realm of The Blinding City (Home of the Insatiably Greedy) and Henry, who is a Guard from The Wasteland (Better known as the home of the Mazikin). 

Lela not only has to worry about the ever increasing sightings of weird looking animals that hunt the homeless, but she also has to deal with her school work, her foster mother Diane, her parole officer, her reputation as a stone cold killer, and a budding friendship with Tegan and her friends. Lela grows as a character. I know reviewers love to say that, but it's factual evidence in this book. Sure there are some bumpy roads with the romance angle. Sure there are some growing pains as Lela moves into a leadership position that life or death consequences that affects everyone she knows. 

Bloody Hell, I was not prepared for THAT ending! Fine took me on a roller coaster ride of emotions, and puts Lela to the test. Not only does Fine test Lela with the Mazikin and an suddenly there character who shows up out of the blue, but she also has to deal with the fact that the Mazikin are really smart, and cunning, and hungry for revenge against those who have wronged them. They use every method possible to lure Lela and her team into trap after trap. I dare say their machinations were brilliantly written and drawn out.

One of the things that fellow readers have complained about is Fine's determination to test Lela and Malachi's romance. There are issues. I won't argue about that point. Lela is in over her head at times, and really wants to keep her enemies from taking her new friends away from her, and her emotions are all over the place. So, yes, Lela and Malachi find themselves with other characters for a short period of time. Here's what I need to say. Malachi has been working as a Guard for 70 years. While he loves Lela, he also needs to rediscover this new world that he left behind 70 years ago. Thankfully, the separation is only temporary.............CLIFFHANGER!!!

This really is an addictive trilogy as you can probably tell by the fact that I read these books back to back. The third installment, Chaos, will be reviewed NEXT week on the blog to keep things interesting.  

Saturday, September 26, 2015

#Saturday Review - Witches In Red by Barb Hendee (Fantasy)

Series: The Mist-Torn Witches # 2
Format: Paperback, 325 pages
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Publisher: Roc
Source: Library
Genre: Fantasy

Céline and Amelie Fawe can see into anyone’s past and future simply by touching them. They have used their powers to secure sanctuary—and a fine apothecary’s shop—in the village around Castle Sèone. But their continued safety has a price…

Far to the north, the men of an isolated silver mining community are turning into vicious “beasts” that slaughter anyone in sight. The mines belong to the noble family of Prince Anton—ruler of Castle Sèone and Céline and Amelie’s patron—and Anton’s tyrannical father has ordered his son to solve the mystery as a test of his leadership. He has no choice but to send the witches into the perilous north, to use their abilities to discover the cause of the transformations. Given how much they owe the prince, the sisters have no choice but to accept.

Together with the over-protective Lieutenant Jaromir, Célene and Amelie enter the dark world of a far off mining camp tainted by fear, mistrust, and enslavement—and haunted by men turning into massive, mad wolves without warning. Now, the two must draw upon strength and cunning they never thought they possessed not only to solve the mystery, but to survive

Witches in Red is the second installment in the Mist-Torn Witches series by author Barb Hendee. Sisters Céline and Amelie Fawe can see into anyone’s past and future simply by touching them. They have used their powers to secure sanctuary and an apothecary’s shop in the village surrounding Castle Sèone. If you haven't read the first book, The Mist-Torn Witches, I do believe that it is OK to proceed in reading this book since Hendee does a fine job of summarizing previous events, and how the sisters ended being saved from their home of Shetana thanks to Prince Anton and Lieutenant Jaromir. 

Although sisters, they are totally opposite of the other. Céline has learned her trade as a healer, spent 5 years as a fake seer, can mix concoctions that heal and take pain away. She's blonde, with lavender eyes just like her mother. Céline is more compassionate than her sister. She finds it extremely hard to turn anyone away when then ask for her assistance. Amelie doesn't have that problem. She also has lavender eyes, wears her dark hair short, loves to dress in breeches and male attire. She's quick with a verbal response as well as her knife and sword. Both sisters are on the cusp of romance, but Hendee hasn't fully committed to the idea as of this story.

Prince Anton once again requests that the sisters help with a problem HIS father is having with a particular silver mine in the Northern Droevinka. The soldiers watching over the silver mine are turning into vicious beasts that kill everyone in sight. Unless they are stopped, the mine will cease production and we can't have that! Anton's father who somehow learned about the sister's abilities, calls on them to use their abilities to solve yet another mystery. Together with the over-protective Lieutenant Jaromir, Célene and Amelie travel to the far off mining camp that has been tainted by fear, mistrust, and resentment. Some interesting new characters make their appearance. They are from the same clan as Célene and Amelie's own mother the nomadic Mondyalitko.

I forgot how much I like this author and this series since it's been several years since I read The Mist Torn Witches. I love sisters Céline and Amelie Fawe. I love that they are nearly inseparable and don't keep secrets from each other. I love that Céline is the caring one whose empathy brings people to trust her. I adore Amelie because she has spunk, fire, and determination, and she is as far from girly-girl as you can get. I liked he three Mondyalitko characters Mariah, Mercedes, and Marcus who is a hunter/shifter. I would like to read more about the group, and hope Hendee doesn't abandon them.

There is a definite twisted romance with the sisters and two particular individuals from Castle Sèone. Céline with Prince Anton (maybe) and Amelie with Lieutenant Jaromir (again, maybe). The romance isn't pushed on readers. In fact, I'd say this is one of the longest burning relationships that I've read in a very long time. The mystery of who was responsible for what is happening was well done, and thankfully, it was resolved to my satisfaction. It will be interesting to read the next book in this series, Witches With the Enemy. I expect to that Hendee will once again create a masterful mystery and toss the sisters in the deep in of trouble once again.

Friday, September 25, 2015

*Stacking the Shelves & Weekly Recap* 09/26/2015

Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual. This means you can include books you buy in physical store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts and of course eBooks!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you had a great week!
I have decided, mostly, to abandon September and move onto October
and other reads that I haven't caught up on. This move will probably come
back to haunt me, eventually. But, one has to do what is best for them
when they have way too many books to read.

Happy Reading!
The Week in Reviews:

Scheduled for Next Week:

Monday - Fractured by Sarah Fine (YA, Fantasy)

Tuesday - The Summer Marked by Rebekah L. Purdy (YA, Fantasy)

Wednesday - The Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson (YA, Fantasy)

Thursday - Magic Shifts by Ilona Andrews (Urban Fantasy)

Friday - Enchanted Revenge by Theresa M. Jones (YA, Fantasy)

Saturday - Mortal Gods by Kendaire Blake (YA, Fantasy)

*Received via Authors, Publishers, NetGalley, & Library* 

Thank you Jennifer Harlow, Harper Voyager, Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
Feiwel and Friends, Bloomsbury Spark, Entangled Teen, St. Martin's Griffin! 







#Friday Review - The Winter People by Rebekah L. Purdy (YA, Fantasy)

Series: The Winter People # 1
Format: Hardcover, 320 pages
Release Date: September 2, 2014
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Salome Montgomery fears winter—the cold, the snow, the ice, but most of all, the frozen pond she fell through as a child. Haunted by the voices and images of the strange beings that pulled her to safety, she hasn't forgotten their warning to "stay away." For eleven years, she has avoided the winter woods, the pond, and the darkness that lurks nearby. But when failing health takes her grandparents to Arizona, she is left in charge of maintaining their estate. This includes the "special gifts" that must be left at the back of the property.

Salome discovers she’s a key player in a world she’s tried for years to avoid. At the center of this world is the strange and beautiful Nevin, who she finds trespassing on her family’s property. Cursed with dark secrets and knowledge of the creatures in the woods, his interactions with Salome take her life in a new direction. A direction where she'll have to decide between her longtime crush Colton, who could cure her fear of winter. Or Nevin who, along with an appointed bodyguard, Gareth, protects her from the darkness that swirls in the snowy backdrop. An evil that, given the chance, will kill her.

When Salome Montgomery was SIX years old, she fell through the frozen pond on her grandparents property and nearly died. Luckily, someone saved her, and warned her to stay away from the woods or SHE will find her. Eleven years later, Salome still has hallucinations from nearly drowning and dreads when winter comes around. Hard to avoid winter in Michigan unless you become a snow bird and fly south! She doesn't wander very far from her property, and really only has one true friend in Kadie Byler who keeps her from diving off the deep end of the pier. Then her grandparents leave for Arizona for the winter, and puts Salome in charge of doing various chores including leaving shiny objects behind in a tree. 

When you think about this clue the author gives you, it should wake you up to the fact that there is something definitely out of the ordinary going on in Salome's world and her Grandparents are probably at the center of it. Salome's world gets even more complicated when while doing her chores, she runs into the mysterious Nevin. She also continues to hear voices. Voices that nobody else can hear. Voices that make her question her own sanity and thus makes her parents worried. You could call this the point where everything Salome thinks she knows, gets thrown right out the window by a little thing called a curse which nobody is able to talk about. 

Nevin pretty much becomes a fixture in Salome's life, but readers don't know much about him. There are clues and hints as to the fact that he isn't human and he has made some really awful mistakes in the past. There are hints that Nevin adores Salome but something is holding him back from helping her break the curse. That is until the next boy comes along and catches her attention. That boy is Colton Myers, Salome's long time crush, and star Basketball player. Colton is the flip side of Nevin. While Nevin is mysterious, yet you know there's a real connection between him and Salome, Colton is the one that gave me the ultimate creeps from the first time we meet him. Then Purdy decided that 2 boys weren't enough to confuse Salome. So, she adds another!

Meet Gareth. Gareth is almost always around when something sinister happens to Salome. And by sinister, I mean that the villain of the story wants Salome dead, and she doesn't care who she hurts in the process. Gareth is an interesting character. First he is a barista that makes Salome weak at the knees. Then he shows up at a strange bar with a friend that Kadie chases after like a cat with a mouse. Gareth is my favorite character and I can't tell you why without spoiling Nevin and Colton's actions in this story. The best thing I can say is, read the book, and the sequel!

This story is filled with magic, and curses, and fairies, and romance. Salome isn't a Mary Sue character, but she isn't all fierce and determined either. She's a reluctant heroine in that it takes her awhile to get her engine motoring. When the engine is rolling along, and she is searching for clues to the curse, then things become interesting. I do think that she could have tried to ask for a bit more help. She relied on Kadie for nearly everything, which is fine, but Kadie spent most of the time chasing one boy after the other. Salome, in my opinion, could have used her for her research. It would have got to the root of the problem and curse sooner. 

Obviously there is more to this series than what happens at the end of this story. Apparently, there are at least 2 more books in this series. Author stated that she will NOT write any more quadrangles. I do sincerely hope so. After all is said and done, the right choice was made by Salome, which is a pretty unusual name, by the way. Goes back to Salome /səˈloʊmiː/ was the daughter of Herod II and Herodias. Or, Salome is named as one of the women present at the crucifixion of Jesus: "There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome"

Thursday, September 24, 2015

#Thursday Review - Sanctum by Sarah Fine (Young Adult, Fantasy)

Series: Guards of the Shadowlands #1
Format: Kindle, 450 pages
Release Date: October 16, 2012
Publisher: Amazon Children's Publishing
Source: Amazon
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy

“My plan: Get into the city. Get Nadia. Find a way out. Simple.”

A week ago, seventeen-year-old Lela Santos’s best friend, Nadia, killed herself. Today, thanks to a farewell ritual gone awry, Lela is standing in paradise, looking upon a vast gated city in the distance—hell. No one willingly walks through the Suicide Gates, into a place smothered in darkness and infested with depraved creatures. But Lela isn’t just anyone—she’s determined to save her best friend’s soul, even if it means sacrificing her eternal afterlife. 

As Lela struggles to find Nadia, she’s captured by the Guards, enormous, not-quite-human creatures that patrol the dark city’s endless streets. Their all-too-human leader, Malachi, is unlike them in every way except one: his deadly efficiency. When he meets Lela, Malachi forms his own plan: get her out of the city, even if it means she must leave Nadia behind. Malachi knows something Lela doesn’t—the dark city isn’t the worst place Lela could end up, and he will stop at nothing to keep her from that fate.

Sanctum is the opening salvo in the Guards of the Shadowlands trilogy. Meet 17-year old Lela Santos. Lela is a character that has literally faced her limits and is still going with some grit and determination. Abandoned at 4 by her neglectful mother, Lela was sent to live in various foster homes. She was later sent to prison after beating the crap out of her rapist foster father. Lela has one last chance to prove herself. She has a new foster mother, Diane, a new school, Warwick HS, and a best friend in Nadia Vetter whom she saved from a drug dealer. Nadia and Diane both make Lela feel something she hasn't in a very long time. Loved. 

Lela feels as though she finally has a future, especially after getting a scholarship to college. Then, everything goes to hell, literally. Nadia, suffering from her own personal demons, kills herself. Lela finds that she has a connection to Nadia, and can tell exactly where she ended up. After mysteriously falling off a cliff to her death, Lela wakes up in a place called Countryside. Let's just call Countryside heaven and move on. Lela knows this isn't the place that she needs to be. She needs to find and rescue Nadia before Nadia becomes one of the hunted. But, Lela isn't exactly a coward. She sneaks her way into Shadowlands, and tries to find Nadia which she eventually does. 

“Some people can’t keep fighting. Some people want to escape. Some people are not ready—are not able—to find a way to deal with what’s in front of them. Sometimes there’s no one to help them. Sometimes they don’t know how to ask for help. Sometimes it feels like there’s no choice but to end it. No other way out. And sometimes it’s impossible to see past that.” 

Welcome to Shadowlands: Shadowlands is the place where suicides are sent until they are ready to be JUDGED by HER for their readiness to move on to their next destination. It is a dark place (no sunlight ever). It is a place where demons called the Mazikan take over the bodies of humans sending their souls straight to demon hell. It is a place where the food is rotten, and disgusting, and only those who have no place to go, gobble it up like chocolate. It is also the place where Lela meets Guards like Captain Malachi Sokol, and Ana, humans who are responsible for putting the Mazikan down. 

Malachi is an interesting fellow. He's a true believer in what he does. He firmly believes that killing as many Mazikan as possible is what he is called to do and has been doing it for almost a century. One needs to respect the Mazikan or face their venomous bites that will kill quickly unless Raphael is around to help heal them. Like Lela, Malachi has had a painful past but has built his reputation as someone who the Mazikan are afraid of. I wasn't patient about the romance angle. I saw it coming, but didn't mind because it made both characters stronger and better. 

I have noticed during my Sarah Fine reading week, that she has a vivid imagination that can't be denied. Sanctum isn't a story that is all happy and delightful. It can't be when suicide and rape are mentioned. I am recommending this book to everyone who follows my reviews. I will be reviewing the sequel Fractured, shortly.

Best Scene:

“...Were you in the military?"
"Are you kidding me? I was in high school."
"High school," he said quietly. "You’re American. And a civilian?"
"Uh, yes. An American civilian."
"Lovely. A straight answer. Keep it up. Did somebody train you?"
"No, nobody trained me. Unless you count the Rhode Island child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Why?"
Malachi held up his hand and ticked off the reasons with his fingers. "You stole a Guard's weapon. If I'm not mistaken, it belonged to a Gate Guard. Which means you managed to do it on your way into the city. You escaped Amid even after he had you in hand. You slashed his leg in just the right place, preventing him from chasing you. Under extreme duress, injured and cornered, you threw a knife and hit a target-"
"It's not like I hit something vital.”

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

#Wednesday Review - Landry Park by Bethany Hagen (Young Adult, Dystopian)

Series: Landry Park # 1
Format: Hardcover, 374 pages
Release Date: February 4, 2015
Publisher: Dial
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Dystopian

In a fragmented future United States ruled by the lavish gentry, seventeen-year-old Madeline Landry dreams of going to the university. Unfortunately, gentry decorum and her domineering father won't allow that. Madeline must marry, like a good Landry woman, and run the family estate. But her world is turned upside down when she discovers the devastating consequences her lifestyle is having on those less fortunate. As Madeline begins to question everything she has ever learned, she finds herself increasingly drawn to handsome, beguiling David Dana. Soon, rumors of war and rebellion start to spread, and Madeline finds herself and David at the center of it all. Ultimately, she must make a choice between duty - her family and the estate she loves dearly - and desire.

Bethany Hagen's Landry Park has left me with so many emotions, that it is hard for me to explain why I am rating this book with 3 stars or why I decided to pick up the sequel from the library. 17-year old Madeline Landry is the story's primary protagonist. She lives in what is apparently 24th century America where there is a pretty apparent caste system with the Gentry ruling over what are known as the Rootless. She is a direct descendant of the man, Jacob Landry, who created nuclear powered lighting called Cherenkov lantern.

The problem with the lantern is that it needs to be regularly changed and replaced by the lowest caste system in this society. That leads to short life spans, and immense hostility. So, while the Rootless are struggling to survive, Madeleine spends her days reading, learning, attending balls, tea parties, and preparing for her debut in society. What she really wants, is to attend university but her father has no intentions of allowing her to go. The problem with this particular society is that as the oldest and only daughter of the Landry's, she is expected to marry and take over the Landry empire before she turns 21.

I'll say this about Madeline, she mostly held her ground on this issue until it wasn't a choice. She was left with absolutely no choice of going through with her so called debut, and was left choosing between who will become her husband. Madeline's outlook on the caste system changes when her nemesis and fellow Gentry Cara Westoff is found apparently assaulted. This leads to Madeline's father and others blaming the Rootless. This leads Madeline to helping a so called resistance group within the Rootless that want to tear up the caste system, and give everyone a fair shot at getting what they want out of life. Equal and level playing field for everyone. Sounds like Social Justice, right?

Anyway, let's talk about the world building for a moment. ::crickets:: No really, there is none. There is talk about China and an Eastern Alliance attacking the US and taking a major chunk out of the US right up until Colorado. There is talk about China preventing the US from having access to trading partners, oil, and other necessities. Consider that the US has a gluttony of oil resources available, I don't see that happening. I for one am tired of hearing about rising oceans that will destroy the largest cities in this country like NYC, and Miami. We've been hearing this same theory ever since men first walked on the moon.    

Madeline finds herself drawn to the everyone wants him, David Dana. But, that isn't good enough for Hagen. Nope. She later adds Jude MacAvery to the triangle mix and then punts him in the nuts when it becomes apparent that Madeline has fallen hard for David and she can't get up again. I personally can't remember the last time I used so many expletives towards a certain character. I can't remember the last time I loathed almost every single character in ONE book, especially Madeline's father and the way he treats both his wife and his daughter and of course, the Rootless. I can't remember the last time I've read a book where there was a FORCED triangle shoved into our faces.

This is why I choose to continue this series. After the events of this book, there will be changes to everyone from the gentry to the Rootless. There is also a certain secret that I will not share about why the Landry's have all gone through a major sickness over the course of their lifetimes. Hagen hasn't touched on the reason yet, but with Madeline's cousin on the case, it is only a matter of time before that is exposed and revealed as well. As for the romance, I dare say that I don't care for the way Jude was handled, or treated. I think writers have got to get over themselves when it comes to triangles of any kind. Someone always loses. Someone always gets their hearts broken. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

#Tuesday - Review/Exceprt - The Dragon Conspiracy by Lisa Shearin (Urban Fantasy)

Series: SPI Files # 2
Format: Paperback, 292 pages
Release Date: January 27, 2015
Publisher: Ace
Source: Library
Genre: Urban Fantasy

We’re Supernatural Protection & Investigations, known as SPI. We battle the real monsters of myth and legend, but this Halloween, we’re searching for diamonds…

A gala opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art has attracted the upper crust of Manhattan—and thieves. A trio of vile harpies attacks the crowd and steals the stars of the exhibition: a colorful cluster of seven cursed diamonds known as the Dragon Eggs.
In the right mage’s hands, each stone can pack a magical wallop. Together they have the power to “cure” the supernaturals of the tristate area—but for many of those vampires and werewolves, that means turning into dust.

I’m Makenna Fraser, a seer for SPI. With the help of my partner, Ian, and the other agents, I have twenty-four hours to prevent total global panic, find the diamonds, and save the supernatural community. No biggie.

The Dragon Conspiracy is the second novel in the SPI Files series. This story actually moves ahead almost a year from where The Grendel Affair left off. It is now Halloween in NYC, and SPI once again finds itself trying to protect the supernatural community from yet another megalomaniac out to change the course of history. After defeating Vivienne Sagadraco's sister in the previous installment and sending the Grendel's back to the hell from which they came from, yet another dragon named Viktor Kain shows up with (7) valuable eggs that haven't been seen in recent history. 

Naturally, Kain also has a bit of an issue with Vivienne that goes back to the early 20th century. I am thinking that it will be a rare book when Vivienne's enemies don't appear and want to take their revenge on her, or those who work for SPI like Makenna Fraser and her partner Ian Byrne. However, I digress. This story really is about the eggs, a evil Gorgon who wants to enlighten the world to the presence of supernatural in the NYC area, a newbie gem mage who has no clue how powerful he really is, and why Viktor would pick now, to reveal all (7) eggs in a very public exhibition. 

I dare say that while Dragons do appear and are an important part of the story, it is the Gorgon and his Harpies that should have been in the title of the book. By using the eggs, the evil Gorgon can "CURE" all the supernaturals in the area surrounding NYC. It is up to Mac and Ian and their fellow SPI agents to find the villain and take him down before midnight strikes. Otherwise, those supernatural agents that have become like family to Mac, will be forever altered. Once again, I loved me some Kenji and Yasha. Were anything to happen to either of these characters, I would be totally shattered.

MaKenna has been an agent for the Supernatural Protection and Investigations unit for nearly a year now. As the only SEER in the entire organization, Mac has kept busier than a Fox in a hen house. Which is good since Mac still needs a bit of backbone, and some training on how to kick ass and take names. Mac does grow a bit in this story, and she gets a nifty new ability that might come in handy one day. She also reconnects with a character who appeared in the novella called Lucky Charms. Goblin Rake Donescu knows how to push Mac's buttons. He's probably not all that trustworthy or honest, but the way he makes Mac squirm, should be fun to read about. 

Speaking of romance, I honestly thought Shearin was pushing Ian and Mac together. Then I picked up this book and Shearin apparently has both characters tied up with other characters like the above mentioned Rake. Not sure if this was to throw off readers and give them temper tantrums, or if she will eventually get back to them as a couple. Either way, the next book should be an interesting read.

The Dragon Conspiracy is a story steep in mystery, suspense, betrayal, and plenty of action to go around. Seems to me that there are a whole lot of arch villains just waiting in the wings waiting to appear and causing havoc for the SPI gang. Some of those arch villains, like Vivienne's sister, haven't been property disposed of yet, so I dare say that Shearin has along way to go before this series can wrap up. Was curious to see Shearin mention Rake and the new Goblin King in this story. It appeared as though she was trying to tie her Raine Benares series with this one. Curiosity has me peaked. 

I was working, but if this was work, then sign me up for triple overtime.
This was my kind of Halloween party—cool jazz, a hot date, and a little black dress I’d paid way too much for, but refused to feel guilty about. It was my treat to me. My first Halloween in New York was shaping up to be one to write home about.
The jazz band was playing “That Old Black Magic.” I wondered if they knew how appropriate that was.
My hot date was my partner, Ian Byrne. No, not that kind of partner; the kind that works with me battling the forces of evil. He was a senior agent; I was the newbie. But his job title didn’t keep him from being the ultimate arm candy.
He was tall, dark, lean, and born to wear a tuxedo.
It was Friday night at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the night before Halloween and we were posing as a hoity-toity Manhattan couple with an invitation to the season’s most anticipated opening night at the Met’s newest exhibit—Mythos.
Gods and goddesses, beasties and monsters, myths and legends, all safely represented in painting, sculpture, or artifact—all of the thrills with none of the danger.
I say danger, because monsters are real.
My name is Makenna Fraser and I work for SPI—that’s Supernatural Protection & Investigations for those in the know. Those in the know consisted of the supernatural community in Manhattan and throughout the outer boroughs.
SPI was headquartered in New York, but had offices and agents worldwide. It was founded by Vivienne Sagadraco in 1647. And no, that wasn’t the boss lady’s ancestor. It was the boss lady herself. Vivienne Sagadraco was much older than she looked, less human than she appeared, and a lot larger than you could ever imagine.
I imagine there were plenty of people who called their boss a dragon lady and meant it as an insult.
My boss was a real dragon—and a true lady.
Right now, she was . . . Well, “holding court” was about the only way I could describe it.
In her actual form, she’d have cleared the room; every human in the place would have been screaming and stampeding for the nearest exit. But as Vivienne Sagadraco, wealthy socialite and generous philanthropist, she drew a crowd of admirers wherever she went—especially admirers who had a cause or event they needed funded.
A mural of frolicking dryads was currently framing her slim and elegant figure. Whether intentional or not, the mural’s jewel-toned tiles of semiprecious stones couldn’t have provided a more flattering backdrop for her.
Though I shouldn’t have been surprised if she had chosen it on purpose. Not because it made her look good, but because it looked good to her. Dragons loved their sparklies, and Vivienne Sagadraco was no exception.
In fact, it was her love of shiny things (and uncanny investment skills) that was behind SPI’s funding. Monster hunting and protecting humans and supernaturals from one another—and keeping humans in the dark about all of it—took the latest technology, developed and run by the most brilliant minds, and seemingly bottomless financial reserves to pay for all of it. Toss in a financial management staff of scary accurate clairvoyants, and Vivienne Sagadraco’s net worth would probably put the treasuries of many first-world countries to shame. Not to mention it made all of us agents warm and fuzzy to know that our 401k accounts were in the best hands.
Ian Byrne and I weren’t here on a date.
We were here to prevent a robbery.
When it came to art with supernatural provenance, value wasn’t always measured in money. There were a handful of items in the exhibition that could cause a lot of trouble if they fell into the wrong hands.
That’s why SPI was involved.
So while we had some idea of what items the thieves were after, we had no earthly clue how anyone could steal any of them, especially tonight.
SPI had received intelligence that there would be a robbery. Tonight. Smack-dab in the middle of a museum gala with hundreds of people in attendance. As to the identity of our potential thief, none of the supernaturals or humans were behaving suspiciously. It looked like a perfectly normal thousand-dollar-a-head museum exhibit opening on a Friday night in New York. People and not-people were out and about, seeing but mostly being seen, looking at ancient art and artifacts, and admiring the pretties and the sparklies from behind velvet ropes and bulletproof glass.
Stealing anything from this exhibition would be humanly impossible.
Inhumans, on the other hand, just might be able to pull it off.
That was where SPI came in.
Or, more to the point, me.
I’m what SPI calls a seer.
Most of the members of my family could see supernatural creatures for what they really were. We could see through any magical veil, ward, shield, or spell any supernatural could come up with as a disguise. I could identify every supernatural present at this little shindig. It wasn’t in the least bit surprising that supernaturals were among New York’s glitterati. When your life span was measured in centuries, you could accumulate wealth in quantities unimaginable to all but Middle Eastern sheiks, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, or Kardashian divorce-settlement recipients.
What passed for figments of peoples’ overactive imaginations, or things that went bump in the night and day, were SPI’s bread and butter.
Fact meets fiction.
Science meets entertainment.
Myths and monsters. If the museum hadn’t wanted to tap into that, they wouldn’t be officially opening the Mythos exhibition to the public on Halloween.
Most of the supernatural guests were the vampire, elf, and goblin variety. Naturally they were veiled, meaning they had used small magics to conceal their most distinguishing features—or at least those that would be most alarming to humans. That meant fangs for the vamps, upswept ears for the elves, and both of the above plus silvery skin tone for the goblins.
I could see them all, but I’d learned at a young age to keep that knowledge to myself. Most supernaturals didn’t want to be seen for what they really were, especially by a human, which many of them viewed as a sub-creature, dinner, or both. I’d always made it a point to avoid being seen as either one.
An unremarkable-looking, middle-aged couple gazed with obvious disdain and quiet, derisive laughter at one of the promotional posters the Met had liberally spread around town on buses, subway stops, and anywhere else people couldn’t help but notice them.
The couple were vampires.
In honor of the gala, a few of the more popular posters had been expanded into banners and hung suspended from the ceiling in all their glossy glory. In honor of Halloween, and people’s seemingly never-ending fascination with vampires, one banner depicted what the Met’s Marketing department knew humans wanted to see if confronted by a vampire—a breathtakingly beautiful, darkly seductive creature, with just a hint of fang visible, and deep bedroom eyes that assured their victim that their primary intent was merely to boff them silly. Yes, there was that tiny, insignificant thing that involved driving those fangs into the side of your neck and essentially ripping your throat out as they drained your blood and left you to die in an alley, darkened park, bathroom in a SoHo nightclub, or wherever they’d found you when the mood to munch took them. But because you’d be so hot and bothered by their sexy selves, you’d enjoy the hell out of the throat ripping while they did it to you.
Though most vamps were discreet in their selection of dining partners, and unless they were feeding for the first time, they didn’t need to drain their victims dry. Regardless, it still felt like a pair of nails being hammered into the side of your neck. There was nothing sexy about that; I didn’t care what you were into.
I looked again at the banner and had to agree with the vampire couple. The depiction was highly inaccurate. I guess I should just be glad that the damned thing didn’t sparkle.
I turned to the man on my arm. “How about a spin around the dance floor? Just one song.”
My ever-vigilant partner continued scanning the crowd for any oddity, something out of place that would signal a team of paranormal thieves getting ready to make their collective move. “We’re not here to dance.”
“No, we’re not,” I agreed, not about to give up that easily. “But we were told to blend in. A lot of people are dancing, therefore dancing blends in.” I had new shoes to go with my new dress, and my new shoes wanted to dance.
“And a lot of people are not dancing,” Ian countered. “They’re going through the exhibition, which is why we’re here, remember?”
How could I forget?
Change of tactics. Ian was always telling me that a good agent is flexible. “Okay, then. Think how many more people you could see from the dance floor.” I lowered my voice conspiratorially. “It’s raised.”
Ian continued his surveillance. “I noticed.”
“Of course you did. But I bet even you can’t resist that song. It’s perfect.”
Ian didn’t respond, at least not with words.
Quicker than a takedown in one of our hand-to-hand combat lessons, Ian swept me onto the dance floor.
I yelped. Fortunately the music covered it up. “You could warn a girl.”
“You asked for it. A good agent is always careful what they ask for—spoken or unspoken.” A trace of a grin quirked his lips. “You never know what you’re going to get.”
Like my normally by-the-book partner being coaxed into mixing a little fun into our business this evening.
“Everything’s a teaching opportunity, isn’t it.” I didn’t ask it as a question; I already knew the answer.
“It is until you learn everything.”
“Which means my future’s gonna be chock-full of teaching.”
Even I couldn’t deny it. The more I learned, the more I realized I didn’t know. My bullets were getting closer to the centers of our shooting range’s paper targets, but human silhouettes were only one kind of target that I practiced on. Some of them were so big you’d think I couldn’t miss them. Wrong. In my defense, when multiple targets popped up either at the same time or one right after the other, it was hard to remember where to shoot. Some of the things we came up against didn’t have hearts in the same places as humans. Heck, some didn’t have hearts at all.
The rest of my training was going even slower, though it’d help if Ian wasn’t the ultimate commando-ninja-badass monster fighter. Him being so good made me look even worse. However, if someday I found myself backed into a dead-end alley facing a wendigo with a hankering for a late-night snack, I knew I’d be glad that I’d been taught by the best. Ian hadn’t deemed me competent enough to progress past what looked to me like Nerf knives, and I still couldn’t last more than fifteen seconds on the sparring mat without Ian pinning me. If he wouldn’t throw me quite so hard, at least that part would be fun, though I think that was why he did it; that and to be a constant reminder that any encounter I had on the job with a supernatural critter wasn’t going to feel like fun and games.
Ian and I had spent a lot of time together since he’d been assigned as my partner/bodyguard/babysitter. SPI’s seers didn’t get combat training, but since my three predecessors had met with fatal accidents that might not have been so accidental, SPI’s management had taken steps to protect their personnel investment. That would be me. Ian Byrne was that protection. To Ian, a big part of that protection was teaching me to fend for myself. I couldn’t have agreed more, and was doing my best to learn everything he had to teach. However, I think Ian was feeling a whole lot like Henry Higgins to my Eliza Doolittle.
During that time, my training had extended to time off the clock. Though it was more like an educational series of “Let’s have a beer after work, and I’ll tell you how to tell normal sewer sludge from the mucus trail of a giant demon slug.” Let me tell you, nothing puts you off your bar-food nachos quicker than a lecture on the color and consistency of slug secretions.
But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t fun, because between the lectures on monster bodily fluids, Ian would tell me about past missions. Purely from an instructional viewpoint, of course. At least that was what Ian wanted me to believe. I could tell he enjoyed the telling as much as I did the hearing. It must have been the Irish storyteller in him.
Ian began maneuvering us toward the center of the dance floor. One spin was so sudden I nearly fell off my heels. Though any heel height was too high for me. I was the only person I knew of who could fall off a pair of flip-flops.
“Easy there, partner. What’s the rush?”
Ian lowered his head to my ear while still steering us toward the center, showing his usual impressive coordination. I displayed my usual lack.
“I want you to get a look at Viktor Kain’s date,” he said. “Human or not human?”
I stiffened, and if Ian’s hand hadn’t been firmly at the small of my back, I would have stumbled.
Ian knew my reason wasn’t due to clumsiness.
“Relax,” Ian told me. “He’s just dancing.”
Well, if Nero had fiddled while Rome had burned, it stood to reason that mass murderers could dance, but that didn’t mean I wanted to dance anywhere near one.
Viktor Kain had loaned art to the Met for the exhibit—art that was the main reason we were here—and Ian had spotted him before I had.
Way to be a watchful agent, Mac.
I was glad Ian had seen him first. If my partner had swung me around and I’d suddenly gotten a gander of the Russian, I’d have probably freaked out, which would have blown our cover, at least with Viktor Kain. Though if the people around us had known what the Russian businessman really was, they not only wouldn’t have blamed me one bit, they’d have run like hell.
Viktor Kain was a dragon.
That wasn’t my problem with him. Far from it. I knew a few dragons. Heck, our boss was a dragon. Once you got past the whole humans-occasionally-on-the-menu thing, dragons could be nice people.
No, my problem with Viktor Kain was that he was the head of an international crime syndicate. He had personally killed hundreds, maybe thousands of people over his long criminal career and even longer life, and he’d ordered the deaths and ruin of even more—and he’d enjoyed every last minute of it.
Ostensibly, the Russian was here in New York because he’d loaned several items to the museum for the exhibition. SPI strongly suspected that wasn’t the only reason. Viktor Kain had brought more than art with him; he’d brought trouble, not just for SPI, but for every human on this island and probably beyond.
The Russian’s very presence on East Coast soil was a slap in the face to every rule of dragon etiquette, and two skips away from a declaration of supernatural war. No dragon would dare set claw on another’s territory without an invitation. I’d put enough agency rumor and innuendo together to know that Vivienne Sagadraco and Viktor Kain had crossed each other’s paths in the past, and as a result of those encounters, each barely tolerated the existence of the other on the planet. So if Viktor Kain the dragon wanted to come to New York, he knew better than to ask for an invitation. It wasn’t gonna happen, in this century or any other.
Local and federal law enforcement knew that Viktor Kain the Russian mobster was here, but until he broke any laws, watch was all they could do.
We couldn’t do anything, either.
Though before the night was over, karma might just kick Viktor Kain in the teeth. In all probability, one of the items he’d brought was the one that was going to be stolen.
The betting had started early among our agents on what the thief would go after. The odds were leaning heavily toward the Dragon Eggs—a massive ruby cut in the shape of a coiled dragon surrounded by seven of the world’s rarest, egg-shaped, colored diamonds, all contained in an intricately woven solid-gold nest.
The Dragon Eggs were being shown for the first time outside of Russia since they’d been given to the Empress Alexandra. Yes, that Alexandra. Wife of Tsar Nicholas, and mother to Anastasia, et al. The separate stones had blood-soaked histories that’d turn your hair white, but collectively they were said to be cursed. The curse rumor definitely picked up a couple extra believability points when in July of 1918, only months after the empress received the diamonds, the Bolsheviks wiped out the Russian imperial family. The Dragon Eggs had vanished after the Romanov family was murdered, and the diamonds had only come together again within the past few months in the collection of Viktor Kain.
I wasn’t normally the superstitious type, but you couldn’t pay me enough to touch the things, let alone own them.
But there were a lot of obscenely wealthy people, or their representatives, here tonight who wanted to do just that—touch and own. They were using tonight’s gala as an auction preview. Whether due to the curse or a need for cash, Viktor Kain was selling the Dragon Eggs; however, for a reason known only to him, he’d let it be known that he could be persuaded to sell them separately rather than together. Maybe he thought he could get more money that way.
I got a good look at the white-gowned, willowy blonde in Viktor Kain’s arms. I didn’t have to look long to determine that she was stunning. The men around her had arrived at the same conclusion, but apparently they felt the need to keep stealing glances at her in case their opinions changed.
While the woman was inhumanly beautiful, human was all that she was.
“Just human,” I told Ian. “Though try convincing any guy here that she’s not a goddess.”
Viktor Kain saw the stir his date was causing, and the oily smile on his face told me that it amused him.
The Russian had a face like the business end of a hatchet, sharp and cold. He was a couple inches taller than Ian, probably pushing six four. His date was only an inch or two shorter, but thanks to the slit in her gown combined with a particularly impressive dance move, I got a look at a pair of what had to be five-inch heels.
Beneath Viktor Kain’s human glamour was a monstrous dragon the color of dried blood. While Vivienne Sagadraco was a dragon of incredible beauty with her peacock blue and green iridescent scales, and immaculate wings that held a similar jewel-like glow, many of Viktor Kain’s red scales were edged in black as if burnt, or missing altogether, revealing rubbery, bat-like skin below. His wings folded crooked over his back, and had been torn in more than a few places, their healing marked by thickened scar tissue.
The Russian looked like a dragon that’d fought many times, and since he was here, he’d apparently met and defeated every challenger. I knew the boss wouldn’t back down from a fight, and I’d seen her in two of them, but she’d either had fewer than Kain, or was so good that she’d never been seriously injured. In a dragon fight, size took a backseat to speed and agility. Viktor Kain was bigger than Vivienne Sagadraco, but I’d seen firsthand how agile the boss was in the air. I got the impression the Russian probably lacked in that area. He looked like more of a use-brute-strength-to-set-an-example kind of guy. Rumor had it he used fire to rid himself of inconvenient business associates. Not with a blowtorch or a flamethrower, but with his own exhaled breath.
Viktor Kain had hidden his true identity over the centuries by assuming a human form; only a small and fanatically devoted circle of associates knew his true nature. I guess he needed a few people to get rid of any crispy critter that used to be an employee whose performance had disappointed him. Though you had to wonder what Viktor’s underlings who weren’t in his inner circle thought when a live man walked in to see their boss, but a human-shaped charcoal briquette got carried out. Most of them probably didn’t want to know how that happened. Keep your head down, don’t ask stupid questions, and live to resperate another day.
Our agency briefing had touched on why Viktor Kain had chosen St. Petersburg as his territory. A city of history, palaces, museums, and art. He fancied himself a patron of the arts, and true to his draconic nature, he was an avid collector. He’d been known to pay an astronomical sum to have the Hermitage closed to the public and the alarms turned off so he could walk the galleries alone, admiring and touching the priceless works of art.
A dragon communing with his hoard.
Ian and I stayed on the dance floor for one more song, and then entered the exhibit. I was glad to leave the dragon and his date to their samba.
The art and artifacts were arranged mostly by subject or time period, and what could only be called theater sets had been designed and lit for maximum effect. The exhibit representing the Delphic oracle was located in what looked like a real cave. Hollywood—or since this was New York, a Broadway set designer—couldn’t have done a better job.
It was spooky as hell; but I had to admit, it was effective.
There were paintings, sculptures, tapestries, artifacts, armor, weapons, jewelry and huge stained glass windows illustrating dragons, furies, demons, sea monsters, vampires, gryphons, giants, fae, gods, and more fantastical creatures from myth and legend—all perfectly lit to maximize their beauty and impact.
Ian paused by the oracle’s cave, getting a report from Edward Laughlin, a security consultant SPI often called upon when the valuables (or the hopeful thief of said valuables) were paranormal in nature. Eddie also had a profitable sideline business as an acquirer of antiquities with a paranormal provenance, making him kind of like Indiana Jones, minus the whip and fedora.
Eddie was also half elf and half goblin, and as such was looked down on by many of both races. Your average elf or goblin on the street was fine with the whole mixed-race thing, but any pure-blood aristocrats of either race here tonight (and there were quite a few) would rather spit on him than look at him. Needless to say, Eddie was rocking a serious glamour this evening that no one short of a mage was gonna see through. And he’d recently added some ubercool sunglasses to his disguise, due to an infection he’d gotten courtesy of an irritated temple-monkey demon that actually had managed to spit on him—right in the eyes. Though if you had to get something that was the supernatural second cousin of pink eye, cover it up in style. Between the super-sized glamour, the shades, and a thick film over his usual aura courtesy of the nasty magic–infused monkey spit, no one—including myself—could tell what he really was, making it perfectly safe for him to walk around among the upper crust of both of his races.
Ian nodded to me, indicating that I should continue; he’d catch up. I did.
The pieces featured in the exhibit came from a mix of loans from private collections and other museums. I saw a few that I recognized, like the Pre-Raphaelite painting of Pandora by John William Waterhouse. His subject may have been romanticized, but the box she was shown opening was very real. Some of the evils and diseases that had originally escaped from the box had been captured, or contained and re-imprisoned. Agency rumor had it that one of the diseases presently in the box could wipe out the entire human race in a matter of days. Pandora’s box and its remaining contents were now securely sealed in a vault deep beneath SPI’s Berlin office.
Nearby was a Greek wine jar on loan from the British Museum featuring Perseus having just cut off Medusa’s head, with the goddess Athena looking on in approval. Nice lady.
Gold flickered out of the corner of my eye. Vivienne Sagadraco wasn’t the only one who liked things that went glitter in the night. I strolled over, and the closer I got, the more familiar it looked. A Viking sword. Not just any Viking sword, but the blade reputed to be the source of the legend of Gram—the sword that the Norse hero Sigurd used to kill the dragon Fafnir.
I chuckled. I had news for the Oslo museum it’d been loaned from: there didn’t need to be a source for Gram’s legend. The real thing existed, and Sigurd hadn’t been a myth, which meant that Fafnir had probably been the real McCoy as well.
I’d seen Gram up close and met Sigurd’s descendant personally last New Year’s Eve. We’d had a problem with the descendant of another Scandinavian. Grendel. Sigurd’s multi-great-grandson was a SPI commando from our Oslo office named Rolf Haagen. He’d brought the sword with him when a team of Nordic monster hunters had jumped across the pond to give us a hand. Rolf killed one of the grendels, but he hadn’t used Gram to do it. The crazy Viking had goaded the monster into grabbing him, and then shoved a grenade down the thing’s throat.
That’d been messy.
Next to the reputed source for Gram’s legend were more swords.
We’d been warned in our pre-mission briefing that there were a few items in the exhibition that were more than what they appeared. The usual arrangement was that people used objects. A couple of the objects in the Mythos exhibition had the reputation of using people.
Between me and the room with the Dragon Eggs was an Egyptian mural of Anubis, a cursed and bloodthirsty Japanese sword that a pair of our agents were keeping a close eye on, gold Incan temple artifacts used in human sacrifices (likewise getting some special SPI protection), and the obligatory statue of St. George and the Dragon. I was betting the boss wouldn’t be a fan of that particular piece.
The lighting got even more dramatic with more than its fair share of reds and oranges. Fire. The art in this section depicted evil in its various mythical forms. Everything from a statue of the classic horned representation of the devil, to the black-winged concept of the fallen Lucifer in a more modern—and, quite frankly, hot—painting. I had news: when you caught a real demon, their veils dropped and you got a good look at what you really had on the end of your hook. Kind of like going fishing and coming up with a water moccasin. Believe me, that wasn’t something you want sharing an itty-bitty boat with you.
A life-sized painting of Hades had been roped off, not for the safety of the painting, but for the safety of female guests, especially those who resembled the daughter of Demeter. Per Demeter’s agreement with the god of the underworld, Persephone was supposed to spend summers with her mom. However, Hades had been known to have occasional bouts of amnesia on that part of the contract. A certain Italian Renaissance artist had traded his soul to Hades for talent with a brush. In return, Hades had added a nifty portal feature to the newly completed painting; a painting that could give you a direct flight straight to Hell. While Hades wanted Persephone, there’d been enough incidents over the centuries of girls disappearing into the painting to prove that any petite blond, blue-eyed beauty with long, shampoo-commercial hair would work in a pinch.
I was petite, but my eyes were green, not blue. And while my hair was blond, it wasn’t long. Still, I wasn’t taking any chances and gave the painting a wide berth. Even though I wasn’t exactly his type, I could swear the painting’s eyes followed me.
I guess it didn’t make a hill of beans’ worth of difference if you were the king of the underworld, or the managing editor of the bottom-of-the-journalistic-barrel tabloid I’d worked for when I’d first come to town; a lecherous sleazebag was a lecherous sleazebag.
A hand on my shoulder nearly made me jump out of my skin.
Ian. Not Hades.
“The boss called. She wants us on egg watch,” he told me.