The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams

“Bobby Dollar is an angel—a real one. He knows a lot about sin, and not just in his professional capacity as an advocate for souls caught between Heaven and Hell. Bobby’s wrestling with a few deadly sins of his own—pride, anger, even lust.

But his problems aren’t all his fault. Bobby can’t entirely trust his heavenly superiors, and he’s not too sure about any of his fellow earthbound angels either, especially the new kid that Heaven has dropped into their midst, a trainee angel who asks too many questions. And he sure as hell doesn’t trust the achingly gorgeous Countess of Cold Hands, a mysterious she-demon who seems to be the only one willing to tell him the truth.

When the souls of the recently departed start disappearing, catching both Heaven and Hell by surprise, things get bad very quickly for Bobby D. End-of-the-world bad. Beast of Revelations bad. Caught between the angry forces of Hell, the dangerous strategies of his own side, and a monstrous undead avenger that wants to rip his head off and suck out his soul, Bobby’s going to need all the friends he can get—in Heaven, on Earth, or anywhere else he can find them.”

After reading this book, I’m reminded of how good urban fantasy can be in the hands of someone who excels at worldbuilding.  Epic fantasy is all well and good, and it can really transport you to another place and time; however, urban fantasy grounds that sense of wonder in a world that we can all relate to.  It makes it easy to let ourselves believe that a shapeshifter might lurk in the shadows of an alley… or in this case, that an angel might be walking past us as we go down the street.

Of course, this book is set in Northern California, which makes me all kinds of happy.  In my opinion, this part of the state is blessed with such a diversity of cities, natural areas, activities and people, it can’t help but provide an excellent setting for the weird and wild stories that urban fantasy is best known for.  And while Bobby lives in a fictional city—San Judas—Williams describes it in such a way that anybody who has been in the Bay Area will feel right at home.  (I also have to laugh at the fact that the author named the city after the patron saint of lost causes, but that’s beside the point.)

One of the other things that I liked about the worldbuilding extends to the characters as well—neither they nor the setting are perfect.  You would think that a story about angels and demons would feature the epitome of good and evil, but that’s mostly not the case.  Many of the angels drink.  Many have personal issues.  Some of the demons have a surprisingly strong moral compass.  As for the city, it has its nice parts and its run down parts, just like any other one, but rarely does it stray to the extremes of ritz or squalor.  In fact, now that I think about it, locations that are either really nice or really run down are reserved for the most earth-shattering of plot events, which ties in nicely with the good vs. evil theme.

But even though these characters have some rough edges, they’re still the sort of people that I’d love to have a conversation with—probably over some kind of alcoholic beverage.  Surprisingly, I found one of the most interesting characters to be the Countess of Cold Hands.  She may be on the wrong side of the Light, but Williams takes his time developing both her demonic side and the side that will leave you feeling very sorry for her.  Unlike angels, demons remember their life on earth, and it lends the Countess a tragic sense that none of the angels can really match.

I get the feeling that this is a novel that I will not only recommend to others, but that I will re-read a few times myself.  The more I thought about what I’d read, the more I got out of it.  Williams has created a world that I can truly see as being just a step or two removed from ours.  And if I could be sure that there really is a man like Bobby waiting to defend me after death, I’d definitely be grateful.  The Dirty Streets of Heaven is a novel that will entertain you while making you think about what might come after our lives are over.

This review was originally posted on September 5, 2012.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire

“Rose Marshall died in 1952 in Buckley Township, Michigan, run off the road by a man named Bobby Cross—a man who had sold his soul to live forever, and intended to use her death to pay the price of his immortality. Trouble was, he didn’t ask Rose what she thought of the idea.

It’s been more than sixty years since that night, and she’s still sixteen, and she’s still running.

They have names for her all over the country: the Girl in the Diner. The Phantom Prom Date. The Girl in the Green Silk Gown. Mostly she just goes by “Rose”, a hitchhiking ghost girl with her thumb out and her eyes fixed on the horizon, trying to outrace a man who never sleeps, never stops, and never gives up on the idea of claiming what’s his. She’s the angel of the overpass, she’s the darling of the truck stops, and she’s going to figure out a way to win her freedom. After all, it’s not like it can kill her.

You can’t kill what’s already dead.”

I’ve read just about everything McGuire has written, including the books under her pen name, Mira Grant. Her books have at various times made me giggle uncontrollably and hold back tears, all in public. Sparrow Hill Road lives up to everything that I expect of this fine author, and surpasses those expectations handily.

The structure of this book was not what I expected, as it reads somewhat like a series of short stories about a single character, Rose Marshall. This isn’t a style that I’ve seen from this author before, but I felt that for this story, it worked very well. This novel is as much about the ambience and ghost lore as it is about a specific plotline. The format allowed McGuire to bring in a lot of backstory about hauntings and different kinds of ghosts while still keeping a loose framework around Rose’s quest to free herself from the man who killed her.

I found myself really liking Rose, a reluctant guardian angel of the road. It’s her compassion that draws the reader, the kind of caring that allows her to aid the newly dead as they pass on to whatever comes next even though she’d rather not have to be a part of their fate. She’s feisty, fallible, and if there are ghosts on the highways, I hope they’re all like her.

McGuire did a great job with the story’s antagonist as well. He’s truly creepy, driving a car evocative of Stephen King’s Christine and bringing with him the rebellious air of a demonic “Leader of the Pack” character. Both him and the circumstances that made him what he is underpin much of the story and draw on older legends of magical places like the crossroads. I do love how McGuire can weave mythologies together and make them sing.

Once again, Seanan McGuire has a hit on her hands. Sparrow Hill Road was a surprising treat, unlike anything else she’s written to date but just as emotionally engaging and fun to read as all of her other work. Please do yourself a favor and pick this one up. It’s a good introduction to the author’s work, but more than that, it’s just a damn good read.

This review was originally posted on May 23, 2014.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland

“Angel Crawford is a loser.

Living with her alcoholic deadbeat dad in the swamps of southern Louisiana, she’s a high school dropout with a pill habit and a criminal record who’s been fired from more crap jobs than she can count. Now on probation for a felony, it seems that Angel will never pull herself out of the downward spiral her life has taken.

That is, until the day she wakes up in the ER after overdosing on painkillers. Angel remembers being in an horrible car crash, but she doesn’t have a mark on her. To add to the weirdness, she receives an anonymous letter telling her there’s a job waiting for her at the parish morgue—and that it’s an offer she doesn’t dare refuse.

Before she knows it she’s dealing with a huge crush on a certain hunky deputy and a brand new addiction: an overpowering craving for brains. Plus, her morgue is filling up with the victims of a serial killer who decapitates his prey—just when she’s hungriest!

Angel’s going to have to grow up fast if she wants to keep this job and stay in one piece. Because if she doesn’t, she’s dead meat.

Literally.”

It’s getting more popular to write a zombie novel that is from the point of view of the zombie.  Most of the ones that I’ve seen thus far have gone the somber route, using the zombie’s condition to reflect on the ills of society and such things.  And while there is some of that in Rowland’s novel—Angel has multiple issues, not the least of which are drug addiction and an abusive father—the author mostly attempts to keep the tone light.  Admittedly, the humor can be a bit morbid at times—Angel’s frustration at bodies showing up at the morgue without their brains is both nauseating and comical—but gallows humor does work, especially in a story of this kind.

And speaking of “nauseating”, readers should be forewarned that there are some fairly graphic scenes in this book.  Angel works as a morgue tech, and of course there’s the whole “eating brains” issue, so parts of this novel are not for the squeamish.  Personally, although I found the concept interesting, I waited a bit before reading this novel, because it’s not a good idea for me to read gross stuff when I’m stressed!  However, brains and blood aside, the icky scenes aren’t lingered over and so shouldn’t cause too much distress.

I liked Angel as a character.  She doesn’t deny or try to gloss over her issues, and it takes the entire book for her to really start making changes in her life.  Rowland portrays Angel as a young woman on the very edge of losing everything—health, sanity, even her life—and having to pull herself back from the brink.  She may be named Angel, but she’s no angel!  She’s a down to earth young person with very real problems, but she never flings around an overabundance of angst.  Rowland found just the right balance between a bad kid and one trying to turn things around.

I wasn’t quite as enamored of the murder mystery that interweaves through Angel’s storyline.  I’m not sure why, but I think it was because I got the sense that Angel’s community wasn’t all that large, and a small community shouldn’t have quite as many deaths (and unusual deaths) as you see.  But this is a small quibble in an otherwise well-written novel.  Everything ties together in the end, and if Rowland doesn’t write any more about these characters, the book still comes to a satisfactory end.

My Life as a White Trash Zombie isn’t your normal tale of the undead.  It’s sharp and fresh, with a fast-talking and savvy heroine who practically grows up before your eyes.  If you’re looking for something funny and a bit off the beaten track, then this novel is for you.

This review was originally posted on August 29, 2011.

This book was a personal purchase.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe

“No one knows where the Tufa came from, or how they ended up in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, yet when the first Europeans arrived, they were already there. Dark-haired, enigmatic, and suspicious of outsiders, the Tufa live quiet lives in the hills and valleys of Cloud County. While their origins may be lost to history, there are clues in their music, hints of their true nature buried in the songs they have passed down for generations.

Private Bronwyn Hyatt returns from Iraq wounded in body and in spirit, only to face the very things that drove her away in the first place: her family, her obligations to the Tufa, and her dangerous ex-boyfriend. But more trouble lurks in the mountains and hollows of her childhood home. Cryptic omens warn of impending tragedy, and a restless “haint” lurks nearby, waiting to reveal Bronwyn’s darkest secrets. Worst of all, Bronwyn has lost touch with the music that was once a vital part of her identity.

With death stalking her family, Bronwyn will need to summon the strength to take her place among the true Tufa and once again fly on the night winds…”

There’s a lot going on in this novel, and it has many different layers.  On the one hand, Bledsoe has re-imagined the classic and well-known myths of the Irish fairies.  Known as the Tuatha de Dannan, their tales are many and various, and transplanting them to the Appalachian Mountains gives them a breath of fresh air.  In fact, for the most part, the Tufa are normal people.  They guard their privacy and keep their beliefs secret, and it’s only upon getting to know them better that you begin to see the signs that they are more than you think.  The reveal of these characteristics is slow and subtle, and the gradual picture suits the laid-back setting.

On another level, the novel follows a soldier’s recovery from war.  The author has made some interesting choices in the creation of Bronwyn: a female soldier injured in war; brutally tortured but with no recollection of it; rebellious and yet a member of the military.  These seeming contradictions all harmonize into a unique young woman, one that I would love to sit down and chat with… or perhaps go out with her for a drink.

On another level (related to the previous one), this is a story about music and its power to move us, to bring people together, and to heal the wounded soul.  Music is all-important to the Tufa, and Bronwyn’s loss of her music speaks volumes about her state of mind and how much she has—and hasn’t—healed.  Her journey to rediscover her skill, to get back in touch with her music, is essentially a quest to find her voice.  As someone who is shown to be unsure of her place in the world, this is a vital and important journey for Bronwyn.  Even the author’s language and choice of words emphasizes the musicality of these people.  It’s another bit of subtlety that you may not even notice how it influences the novel’s tone.

Yet another layer is a coming of age tale.  Throughout the novel, we learn about Bronwyn and what kind of person she was as a youth, rebellious and wild.  Upon her return, she’s forced to confront her responsibilities to her family and to her community.  It’s a subject that we all have to face at one point or another, and thus it’s one that everybody can relate to.  Not only do we all have to figure out our place in society, but we also have to find who we are and what we hold dear.  It’s rarely easy, and Bronwyn’s struggles resonate with keen intensity.

Take all of these elements together and you have a novel of splendid beauty and heartbreaking intensity.  The Hum and the Shiver ranks with the finest fantasy novels on the shelf today.  Atmospheric and filled with a music all its own, it’s one that shouldn’t be missed.  I sincerely hope Bledsoe writes more novels about the Tufa, because I’ll be the first in line to pick them up and recommend them to anyone that will stand still long enough.

This review was originally posted on October 12, 2011.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Half-Off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire

“When Alex Price agreed to go to Ohio to oversee a basilisk breeding program and assist in the recovery of his psychic cousin, he didn’t expect people to start dropping dead. But bodies are cropping up at the zoo where he works, and his girlfriend—Shelby Tanner, an Australian zoologist with a fondness for big cats—is starting to get suspicious.

Worse yet, the bodies have all been turned partially to stone…

The third book in the InCryptid series takes us to a new location and a new member of the family, as Alex tries to balance life, work, and the strong desire not to become a piece of garden statuary. Old friends and new are on the scene, and danger lurks around every corner.

Of course, so do the talking mice.”

ALL HAIL THE AUTHORIAL PRIESTESS!  Sorry, I couldn’t resist.  I do so love me those Aeslin mice.  And it’s the mice that really represent what I love about this series and about McGuire’s writing in general: quirky and original and not something you’re going to find in just any old book.  The author most definitely has her own voice and style and she’s not afraid to use it.

This book departs a bit from the previous two in that it doesn’t focus on Verity, moving instead to her brother Alex.  While I’ll miss all the ballroom dancing references, I found myself warming up to Alex and his work at a zoo’s reptile house.  His specialization is non-sentient cryptids like basilisks, so his story is less about diplomatic situations and more about being a caretaker to the hidden species of our world.  Or at least, it starts that way.

Just because he works with reptiles doesn’t mean that those species can’t talk back.  The gorgons are a large presence in this book, and there’s even one working with Alex at the zoo.  I continue to like how McGuire delves into mythology for her creatures, and yet she puts her own touches to the different non-human characters and how they live and interact with humans and each other.

Readers even get glimpses of an organization out of Australia that is sort of like the Healy-Price clan, one that might be good allies with Alex and his family down the road.  There’s little to no Covenant presence in this book, but I’m kind of glad, because that might have muddied the waters with too many rival organizations.  Getting a look at the wider world of those who know about the cryptids is something that I was hoping for and was very happy to see.

As usual, I absolutely adored McGuire’s storytelling and humor.  And of course, the Aeslin mice.  Half-Off Ragnarok is one of the most enjoyable novels debuting this month and I’ll continue preaching the gospel of cheese and cake to anyone who will listen.

This review was originally published on March 19, 2014.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

Magic for Nothing by Seanan McGuire

“As the youngest of the three Price children, Antimony is used to people not expecting much from her. She’s been happy playing roller derby and hanging out with her cousins, leaving the globe-trotting to her older siblings while she stays at home and tries to decide what she wants to do with her life. She always knew that one day, things would have to change. She didn’t think they’d change so fast.

Annie’s expectations keep getting shattered. She didn’t expect Verity to declare war on the Covenant of St. George on live television. She didn’t expect the Covenant to take her sister’s threat seriously. And she definitely didn’t expect to be packed off to London to infiltrate the Covenant from the inside…but as the only Price in her generation without a strong resemblance to the rest of the family, she’s the perfect choice to play spy. They need to know what’s coming. Their lives may depend on it.

But Annie has some secrets of her own, like the fact that she’s started setting things on fire when she touches them, and has no idea how to control it. Now she’s headed halfway around the world, into the den of the enemy, where blowing her cover could get her killed. She’s pretty sure things can’t get much worse.

Antimony Price is about to learn just how wrong it’s possible for one cryptozoologist to be.”

This is my least favorite of the Incryptid books so far.  Now, that’s not saying anything too bad, because I did still like this book and enjoy it.  It is not, however, one that I found completely un-put-downable.  My standards have gotten pretty high when I see that Seanan McGuire has authored a book, so maybe I’m being too picky, but again, I expect a lot from one of her books.

One of the things I like the most about McGuire’s prose is her ability to create memorable characters.  In this series, the main characters have consistently been not only well-fleshed out in their own right, but they’ve also been meticulously fitted to the family they come from.  Let me give you an example: Verity, star of the first book, is encountered mostly on her own in New York, but her status as a member of the Price family is solid.  She may not live with them—or even near them—but she’s in close enough communication with them and references them enough that you get the sense of a cohesive group.  The same goes for Alex, who takes the stage in book three.  His love of herpetology fits with the main plot but also hearkens back to his family’s love of (and protection of) cryptids.

Antimony just didn’t live up to that standard, in my opinion.  Being in an “undercover” role, she has almost no communication with her family beyond a couple of contacts with one of the family’s ghosts.  Her memories are mostly focused on her time spent with the Campbell family carnival, during which time she was away from the rest of the Price clan.  Maybe this wouldn’t have stood out to me so much if this story had been written earlier in the series, but after five previous novels with strong family connections, I felt that the lack was noticeable.

I also had a bit of an issue with Antimony’s self-identifying as a “derby girl”—she’s into roller derby in a big way.  Although we do see a short scene of her at a derby practice at the start of the story, her actual participation in a derby never comes up again.  We see her doing all kinds of acrobatics, but no skating.  This is in stark contrast to Verity’s ballroom dancing, which is always significantly present, or Alex’s love of all things reptilian.  Again, in many ways this departure from previous form is dictated by the plot, but it wasn’t something I was as fond of.

Beyond that, as an entry into this series, I liked it well enough.  The pacing is good, the setting is unique, and the rest of the cast gets just enough fleshing out to work well with the main character.  We get to encounter a few more kinds of cryptids and have some encounters with the Covenant of St. George up close and personal.  And as usual, the Aeslin mice are adorable.

The Price family tale gets more and more complicated as the novels unfold, and I’m eager to see where things go in the next book, Tricks for Free.  Honestly, your mileage may vary on the character issues that I grumbled about, but I doubt you’ll take issue with the plot or storytelling.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Throwback Thursday: Written in Red

written-in-redSince I just finished re-reading this book, it’s featured here as my Throwback Thursday pick.  It’s one of my favorites, so check out the review!

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

“As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.

Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.”

Read more…

Marked in Flesh by Anne Bishop

marked-in-flesh“Since the Others allied themselves with the cassandra sangue, the fragile yet powerful human blood prophets who were being exploited by their own kind, the delicate dynamic between humans and Others changed. Some, like Simon Wolfgard, wolf shifter and leader of the Lakeside Courtyard, and blood prophet Meg Corbyn, see the new, closer companionship as beneficial—both personally and practically.

But not everyone is convinced. A group of radical humans is seeking to usurp land through a series of violent attacks on the Others. What they don’t realize is that there are older and more dangerous forces than shifters and vampires protecting the land that belongs to the Others—and those forces are willing to do whatever is necessary to protect what is theirs…”

Okay, so this is one of those series where I try to review the books and end up just Muppet-flailing all over the place because I love it so much.  So, please bear with me while I try to write something coherent.

My first love in this book is the characters.  I feel like Meg, Simon, Tess, Vlad, Henry, and all the other residents of the Lakeside Courtyard are friends, and the book is like a long letter from them catching me up on what they’ve been doing since I last heard from them.  The interactions among them feel very genuine, and it reminds me of something said by someone overhearing my co-workers and I bantering: “You sound like family.”  The people in this book are the same way–you can hear the depth of their relationships and the time spent together in what they say to each other, as well as in what they don’t say.  I adore Meg and Simon’s friendship, and while I know there are those out there rooting for them to start a romantic relationship, I hope they stay just friends, because it’s so sweet to read about.

My next love is for the world-building.  Once again, Bishop has expanded her readers’ view of her world, not only by going across the ocean for some scenes, but also by giving us a glimpse at the older, more powerful creatures that live in the wild places of our country.  They’ve only been hinted at in earlier books, but now… well, you don’t get a really good look at them, but they do step out of the forests and take an active role in the story, and you will get to see the aftermath.

My third love in this novel is the politics that have been slowly built up through the entire series thus far.  Knowing that human nature is to take as much as we can, the situations that play out through this book are all too believable.  I was wincing reading what the humans in this world do in the name of “humans first”, not because it was far-fetched, but because it was so plausible.  That being said, there are some long-running aspects of this storyline that come to their natural conclusion here, and I defy you not to do a fist-pump when they do.

This series remains one of my all-time favorites.  Ever since Meg and Simon and the other Courtyard residents first appeared in book form and helped to get me through a rough period in my life, they’ve occupied a place of honor on my shelves.  Marked in Flesh wraps up some parts of Meg’s tale but leaves plenty of room for more adventures.  I, for one, can’t wait.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.)

Vision in Silver by Anne Bishop

vision-in-silver“The Others freed the cassandra sangue to protect the blood prophets from exploitation, not realizing their actions would have dire consequences. Now the fragile seers are in greater danger than ever before—both from their own weaknesses and from those who seek to control their divinations for wicked purposes. In desperate need of answers, Simon Wolfgard, a shape-shifter leader among the Others, has no choice but to enlist blood prophet Meg Corbyn’s help, regardless of the risks she faces by aiding him.

Meg is still deep in the throes of her addiction to the euphoria she feels when she cuts and speaks prophecy. She knows each slice of her blade tempts death. But Others and humans alike need answers, and her visions may be Simon’s only hope of ending the conflict.

For the shadows of war are deepening across the Atlantik, and the prejudice of a fanatic faction is threatening to bring the battle right to Meg and Simon’s doorstep….”

Like most other reviewers, I find it hard to write a review of a book in the Others series without descending into frantic Muppet flails of happiness.  For me, this series is pure entertainment, and I find it effortless to sink so far into the story that I put down the book and wonder which world I’m in.  This book, and the series as a whole, works on so many levels that it’s hard to categorize them all.

On one level, like I said, this book is just fun to read.  I love the characters–Sam with his squeaky-door howl, Grandfather Erebus and his love of old movies, the Crowgard and their addiction to sparkly things–and I especially love their interactions with the main character, Meg.  She oftentimes puzzles the local terra indigene, but they retain a deep affection for her, and it shows how they treat her.  There are some new characters introduced in this novel, most notably Monty’s daughter Lizzie, that liven up the story.  And readers learn what happened to the freed cassandra sangue after the end of Murder of Crows by following one as she adjusts to freedom.

On a deeper level, you can read the story as having to do with prejudice, racism, and even colonialism.  Here, the “white man” is the intruder and is often dealt with harshly for seemingly minor transgressions.  The backlash against this attitude manifests in the Humans First and Last movement, which sadly echoes a lot of the social conflicts of the modern world.  Both humans and Others have a lot of learning to do, but I think the humans have the farthest to go: they feel owed a supremacy in Thaisia that they haven’t earned.  On the other hand, isn’t rising up against prejudice something we applaud others for doing?  It’s an interesting mix in which you identify with, and condemn, both sides of the conflict.  I don’t know if the author meant all that to show up in the story, but that’s how it resonated for me.

On a different note, I love how the worldbuilding expands with every novel.  There are hints that we’ll soon see what things look like in the Thaisian version of Europe, which I can’t wait to see.  I also look forward to seeing the feline Others (I’m a cat person) that were briefly mentioned herein.  It’s so obvious to me how much thought Bishop has put into this world, and I adore every square inch that we get to see.  She even roleplays as the wolves on Facebook–if you haven’t checked out the Anne Bishop’s Courtyard page, I highly suggest that you do so, because it’s tons of fun to read.

So, while I stop myself from gushing further over this book, go out and get it for yourself.  If you haven’t started the series yet, go get Written in Red without delay.  If you like urban fantasy, you’ve got to read this one.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop

murder-of-crows“After winning the trust of the terra indigene residing in the Lakeside Courtyard, Meg Corbyn has had trouble figuring out what it means to live among them. As a human, Meg should be barely tolerated prey, but her abilities as a cassandra sangue make her something more.

The appearance of two addictive drugs has sparked violence between the humans and the Others, resulting in the murder of both species in nearby cities. So when Meg has a dream about blood and black feathers in the snow, Simon Wolfgard—Lakeside’s shape-shifting leader—wonders if their blood prophet dreamed of a past attack or a future threat.

As the urge to speak prophecies strikes Meg more frequently, trouble finds its way inside the Courtyard. Now, the Others and the handful of humans residing there must work together to stop the man bent on reclaiming their blood prophet—and stop the danger that threatens to destroy them all.”

I have to admit that I absolutely adore this series.  There’s something about it that just hits the spot with me, kind of like a warm hot chocolate on a cold day.  I’ve had a hard time pinning down what I find so appealing about it, but now that I’m reading the first book aloud to my husband, I’ve been able to figure some of it out.

First, there’s the worldbuilding.  Bishop has obviously put a lot of thought into how she has structured this version of North America and how the various races interact with each other.  Everything seems to constantly balance on a fine line between a workable compromise and utter disaster.  The Others hold much of the power, controlling things like raw materials and access to water.  Humans, on the other hand, are more technologically advanced, and there are hints that such advancements may tip the balance and cause problems that humanity may not be equipped to deal with.

The plot centers around this tension, as humans have discovered a way to drug Others so that they’re vulnerable to attack.  All of the escalating violence reminds me of conflicts over such issues as race and religion in real life—eventually, both sides end up ignoring the message from the other side in favor of hammering their own views home no matter the cost.  In this case, though, the scales are significantly more lopsided.  After all, you may disagree with your neighbor, but he’s not likely to see you as clever meat.

What I like most about this book are the characters, and especially the little details of how they interact with each other.  Even though the Others are ultimately dangerous predators, it’s hard not to be charmed at the image of Simon in his Wolf form putting his head in Meg’s lap to snooze while she watches television.  The Crows may be canny information gatherers, but their love of all things shiny gives them a childlike quality.  And who can help but smile at an elderly vampire who loves watching old human films?

The story revolves, of course, around blood prophet Meg.  Bishop has done an excellent job at giving her a lot of power without making her all-powerful.  There are restrictions on what she can see when she has a prophecy, and while what she sees always comes true, it’s often best understood in hindsight.  Mostly, Meg is just a human whose kindness and goodwill becomes the bridge between Others and humanity, and I have to admit that it’s refreshing to see a character who is just a nice person.

I can’t wait to see what Bishop does with this world next, but I hope she continues to expand outward and give us a look at what the world is like in more of North America, and even over in Europe (or the equivalents thereof).  I devoured Murder of Crows the way a Wolf devours cookies—quickly and eagerly, and wishing for more when it was done.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

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