Posts Tagged: finlayson

Urban fantasy review: ‘Murdered Gods’ by Marina Finlayson

March 4, 2017 Review 0

Marina Finlayson is one of my all-time favourite authors. Her stories just seem to resonate with me, and I’ve enjoyed every single thing she’s written. Which makes it more than a little nerve-wracking whenever I pick up a new book – will this be the one that falls flat on its face? Well, no is the answer, not by a long shot.

In the previous book, Lexi got into a whole heap of trouble over a stolen ring with magical powers, although with a hot fireshaper around, there were some compensations, too. But the ring’s doing some odd things, and Lexi’s own ability is unusual too. Controlling animals seems pretty tame when you’re surrounded by shifters in a world ruled by powerful shapers, but where did that ability come from? Lexi decides to go back home to the human territories to ask the one person who knows – her mum.

Accompanied only by her faithful pal Syl, a cat shifter who refuses to take human form, Lexi heads off on what should be a simple journey. But that’s not going to happen, right? With some really, really angry people on her tail and a lot of mysterious goings on back home, the story sucked me in big time, and I just couldn’t put it down. I’m not going to say any more because – spoilers! But you can be sure that there’s a ton of action, lots of neat twists and a glorious punch-the-air moment when the cavalry arrives (in a most unlikely shape!).

Be warned, however, that some of the big questions raised in this book remain unresolved. There’s no cliffhanger, as such, but there are definitely unfinished aspects left for the next book. I can’t wait! Five stars.

Divider

Urban fantasy review: ‘Stolen Magic’ by Marina Finlayson

October 23, 2016 Review 0

The first of a new series, and once again Finlayson offers a book that’s everything I don’t normally read (urban fantasy? Me? Um…), and has me utterly absorbed, hanging on every word. Right from the start, as heroine Lexi breaks into a house with the aid of nine cats, I loved everything about it.

The world Finlayson lays out is (to me) a little different. There are shifters – were-wolves and a whole array of other were-species. There are vampires. There are shapers — people with a power over one or more elements. And the result is a very different-looking political spectrum. There’s no pretence here that the ‘other’ species are somehow hidden from the human population, nor that they peacefully coexist. No, the shapers are immensely powerful, and as a result, they call all the shots. There are shaper-controlled areas, where shifters and other non-humans live in cautious subjection. There are separate human-controlled areas. The differences are underscored by place-names — Britain is Britannia here, and Australia assumes its 17th century name of New Holland.

So where does our heroine, Lexi, fit in? She’s neither shifter nor shaper — her peculiar talent is to connect to the minds of animals. I’ve used this ability to a limited extent in my own books, but Finlayson uses animals in some wonderfully creative ways — even cockroaches! I’d never thought of the little blighters as anything but an irritating nuisance, but here Lexi manages to make them delightfully useful.

Plot: OK, there’s a plot. Lexi is hiding out in the small seaside town of Berkley’s Bay after a powerful shaper asked her to use her unusual talents to steal a ring from an even more powerful shaper. Not a game she can win, whatever she does, so she’s lying low, running a second-hand bookstore for the vampire who runs the pub, living above the shop with her cat. But then another shaper turns up, and life starts getting difficult…

The author’s always brilliant at drawing her characters, so it goes without saying that Lexi and all the other shifters and shapers in her world feel beautifully real. However, I have to make special mention of Lexi’s cat, Syl, who is quite awesome from start to finish, and utterly catlike in every way. I adored her. There’s also a blossoming romance for Lexi, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that plays out in the rest of the series.

Another terrific book from the author. Great world-building, loads of action that kept me turning the pages when I really should have been doing other things, a wonderful main character, a hot but difficult-to-trust love interest, an awesome cat and a mysterious ring. What’s not to like? Five stars.

Divider

Fantasy review: ‘The Cauldron’s Gift’ by Marina Finlayson

July 22, 2016 Review 0

This is one of those series that’s everything I don’t normally read: it’s YA with a teenage girl as the main character, there’s a shedload of school drama and boyfriend angst, it’s written in first person, and, would you believe it, the protagonist turns out to have unusually strong magical powers. As a rule, I’d be running a mile. But this is by Marina Finlayson, the author who seduced me into enjoying werewolves and other shifters, so it not only works, it works brilliantly.

In The Fairytale Curse, Vi and twin sister CJ found themselves spitting frogs and diamonds respectively, while others around them were turned into the sleeping beauty, an ogre and a polar bear. It turned out the Sidhe were escaping from their magical captivity, but Vi and friends managed to lock them up again, at the price of losing one of the four artifacts that kept them there, the magic cauldron that grants wishes (and wouldn’t we all like one of those!). And Vi’s dad is still a polar bear. So in this book, the race is on to find a cure for dad before he becomes so deeply immersed in beardom that nothing can make him human again. And it seems like the only way is to bring that cauldron back from fairyland. Yikes!

This one took a while to get going, but it was never the slightest bit dull and (a huge bonus for me) the events of the last book were skilfully woven in, so that I never wondered what was going on or why. All the characters are believable and behave rationally, not something that can be said for all fantasy. And they’re sympathetic too — my heart bled for Zak, and for the poor neglected ogre that nobody ever seems to think about. There’s a mystery to be solved, as well — who is the traitor helping the Sidhe to escape? Once the pace picks up around the mid-point, it’s relentless and the book becomes unputdownable. As always with Finlayson, nothing is quite as straightforward as it seems, and just when you think everything’s settled, she swipes you upside the head with another brain-rattling twist of sheer brilliance.

A terrific sequel, full of action, believable characters and the author’s Australian humour. Oh, and a starring role for some of Sydney’s great landmarks. Highly recommended. Five stars. Can’t wait to see where this goes next.

Divider

Fantasy review: ‘The Fairytale Curse’ by Marina Finlayson

May 22, 2016 Review 0

I’ve loved everything the author has written to date, so this was right at the top of my reading list. It’s not my usual fare (YA? High school? Proms? Really not my thing) but Finlayson achieved the seemingly impossible and taught me to love werewolves, so I was pretty confident she could work the same magic again.

Here’s the premise: 17-year-old twin sisters CJ (the pretty one) and Violet (the other one) wake up after a party to find they’ve been cursed. Whenever they speak, they spit diamonds (CJ) or frogs (Violet) from their mouths. And they’re not the only ones to find themselves on the wrong end of a fairytale curse. But strangely, Mum and Dad aren’t quite as surprised as might be expected. Turns out they’re part of a whole organisation devoted to keeping the unpleasant fairies (Sidhe) harmlessly locked away. And wouldn’t you just know it, those evil fairies are breaking out and looking for revenge.

Cue all sorts of mayhem and dramatic goings on, and (since this is YA) there’s a hefty dollop of romance in the background too. This was a lot of fun, and I loved that the schoolkids were, in the end, instrumental in restoring some semblance of normality, with only a little help from the grown-ups. There are a bunch of unanswered questions left dangling for the next book in the series, but the immediate threat was resolved very neatly. This felt just a tad too YA for my personal taste, but that’s the only thing keeping this to four stars.

Divider

One to watch out for: ‘The Fairytale Curse’ by Marina Finlayson

April 27, 2016 Books that caught my eye 0

The Fairytale CurseI don’t normally post about books I haven’t read, but sometimes I just have to tell the world about something that’s coming soon. I’m a huge fan of Marina Finlayson’s writing, I loved The Proving series, which started with Twiceborn, and even her short story, The Family Business, was terrific. So you can believe me when I say I’m really excited about her next book, due out May 8th. And isn’t that the most awesome cover? You can pre-order the book now at Amazon. Here’s the blurb:

Most people only wake up with hangovers after parties. Seventeen-year-old Violet wakes up with frogs falling out of her mouth whenever she speaks, and her twin sister CJ’s dripping diamonds with every word. As if starting at a new high school wasn’t hellish enough, they’ve been hit with a curse straight out of a fairy tale, with not a handsome prince in sight.

Apparently Mum and Dad don’t work for the military after all, but for a secret organisation dedicated to keeping the magical denizens of the world safely locked away. These are not the harmless fairies of children’s tales, but powerful beings with a score to settle for their long years of imprisonment. Now the barriers are failing, and if Vi can’t find answers fast the world will be overrun with vengeful fairies. And then there’ll be no happily ever after for anyone.

Divider

Urban fantasy review: ‘Moonborn’ by Marina Finlayson

February 22, 2016 Review 0

Ah, Garth… my favourite werewolf. {Sigh} He was a side character in The Proving trilogy, although an important one, but here he gets to take centre stage. This is a terrific prequel to the series. A few familiar characters pop up from the later story, but it’s not necessary to have read the trilogy first. In fact, it would work very well to read this and then move straight into Twiceborn. Either way works.

This tells the story of how Garth became a werewolf and how he got on in his early years as a shifter (not very well, in case you were wondering). Poor Garth! You’d have to have a heart of stone not to feel sorry for the poor guy, with all his difficulties. Because the trouble is, Garth doesn’t take easily to pack life and for a werewolf, that’s a real problem. Watching Garth struggle to fit in with a pack, or to live alone, and yet fail at both, is heart-rending.

But it’s not all grief and misery. There are some awesome moments in here, too. Garth’s first full moon transformation, followed by his first hunt as a wolf, is riveting. In fact, all the wolf moments are brilliantly written. It’s not easy to convey the almost completely animal nature of a werewolf in wolf form, where even the names of the other pack members are lost, but Finlayson is terrific at getting the reader right under the wolf’s skin.

The story covers quite a lot of ground, fifteen years to be exact, taking Garth from pre-werewolf days right through to the time of the dragon queen wars, the Proving, so it’s episodic rather than a single story. It’s no less compelling for all that, and the dramatic finale is an emotional roller-coaster as each minor triumph is immediately followed by a lurch downhill towards disaster. This is a great read — highly recommended. Five stars.

Divider

Urban fantasy review: ‘Twiceborn Endgame’ by Marina Finlayson

December 11, 2015 Review 0

This is the third part of the Proving Trilogy, and there were big reveals in the first two parts which it’s difficult to avoid mentioning in this review. If you haven’t read them yet and don’t want to spoil the surprise, don’t read on.

Werewolves are part of my unholy trinity – along with vampires and zombies – which I will NOT read about, no matter what. Or so I thought. But this is the series that made me love werewolves. Who’d a thunk it? But then this is an unusual urban fantasy in many ways. The main character, Kate, isn’t a badass teenage girl snarking her way through life, and doing nothing but drool over the hot blokes. She’s the mother of a young boy, and heaven knows that makes a refreshing change. Now, there’s a certain amount of snark (she’s Australian, so that goes with the territory), and there’s a little drooling too, it has to be said. But Kate has her priorities sorted, and her son Lachie is at the top of the list.

Kate spent the first book of the series working out what was going on, and trying to survive the Proving, a fight to the death between daughters of the current dragon queen – last one standing gets to inherit the crown. Kate doesn’t want to be queen, but wants to be dead even less, so in the second book she stepped up to the plate to take on her sisters, and her mother. But Finlayson is a demon with those unexpected twists – just when you think Kate must surely be safe, some new and terrifying disaster hits. And at the end of book 2, she’s blindsided by new revelations, to set things up brilliantly for this book.

But Kate isn’t the passive I-want-to-be-human weakling she was at the start of the trilogy. Previously, she’s turned to her dragon-side as a last resort – to save her son, for instance – but now she fully embraces her dragon nature, and truly takes on the role of leader. And yet she never forgets her human side, either, and that’s a difference that gives her a unique advantage, both physically and psychologically.

This book felt slightly less frenetic than the previous two, but that’s partly because Kate is more in charge now, and taking control of her life. Even so, there are still plenty of twists and turns along the way, and the action rarely lets up. And just when you think everything is tied up with neat little bows, Finlayson has one last surprise up her sleeve, which I did NOT see coming. Finally, Kate’s romantic life reaches a resolution at last, and a very satisfactory one it is too.

Everything I look for in fantasy is right here – compelling characters, a fascinating premise and a plot that rattles along with a new surprise round every corner. Add in the author’s terrific writing style, a healthy dollop of Aussie humour and lots of dragons, not to mention werewolves and a whole raft of other shifters, and this is another five stars. I highly recommend the whole trilogy, and not just to urban fantasy fans.

Divider

Urban fantasy review: ‘Twiceborn Queen’ by Marina Finlayson

July 3, 2015 Review 0

This is the second part of the urban fantasy series The Proving, and boy, is it a cracker. I loved the first part, Twiceborn, werewolves and all, but this one is, if anything, even better. It’s a rare accomplishment in a trilogy to maintain the momentum of the first book into the second, but here the author carries it off with style.

SPOILER WARNING: the end of the first book had a number of spectacular reveals, and I really can’t talk about events in this book without referencing them, so it will be impossible to avoid spoilers for Twiceborn. Don’t read any further if you haven’t yet read it. There are no spoilers for this book, however.

In Twiceborn, Kate O’Connor thought things couldn’t get worse after the death of her son, Lachie. Well, she was totally wrong about that. She found herself drawn into the war of succession between the daughters of Sydney’s dragon queen. The winner will be the last one left standing. Kate doesn’t want any part of it, but one of the dragon daughters has made a dying transition into Kate’s body. Now the two, dragon and human, are one.

So Kate has no choice but to fight. But now she has something worth fighting for, because her supposedly dead son has reappeared and she also has a brand-new boyfriend. She’d love to settle down and play happy families, just the three of them, but first she has to settle the Proving, and become the new queen.

Kate is an awesome heroine. Not because she’s a kickass fighter in the feisty female protagonist tradition of urban fantasy (although in dragon mode she’s pretty damn hot). No, it’s because she never loses sight of her human side. She’s been given some really short straws in life, but she doesn’t agonise over her situation, she just gets on and does whatever needs to be done to protect her son. It doesn’t always work as she hopes, and perhaps when your mother is half-dragon a child has to be aware of all the unpleasantness that goes along with that, but Lachie is always her first thought in a crisis, and she tries her damnedest to keep things normal for him. There’s this glorious conversation:

“Lachie sniffed appreciatively.
“Something smells good!”
“That’s your lunch, mate,” said Dave.
“Can I have something to eat now? I’m starving.”
“You’ll have to ask your mum about that.”
He gave me his best imploring look.
“Have a piece of fruit. You don’t want to spoil your appetite.”
I looked around at the others as I spoke. Did anyone else find this surreal? This kind of conversation was probably going on in hundreds of other households around Sydney right now. But none of them were waiting on the results of [spoiler: let’s just say ‘unpleasant dragon stuff’]”

Kate is such a wonderful contrast between loving, worrying mother and couldn’t-care-less dragon. I’m quite sure that by the time the trilogy ends, she will have found a resolution to this dichotomy, but in this book it’s pulling her in two different directions. She has to determine when to bring her human side forward, and when it’s necessary to unleash her inner dragon.

But the author doesn’t ever allow the story to bog down in angsty whining. The conflict is there, and Kate’s aware of it, but she never dwells on it. Not that she has much time to dwell on anything, because the action kicks off almost from the start and never lets up for a moment. Everyone, it seems, is out to get Kate, and it’s hard to know who she can trust.

She has a core group of loyal supporters, amongst them boyfriend Ben, and Garth the werewolf. I got a bit cross with Ben, who whines a lot and turns out to be one of those irritating people whose idea of helping is to do something really reckless and worry-inducing. And Garth’s idea of helping is to quibble about every decision Kate makes. There are some new characters in this book, and one in particular lit up every scene. Shifters are always fascinating, but this was an unusual one (to me, anyway).

The author ended the first book in awe-inspiring style, and I was sure she couldn’t repeat the feat. She could and did, in spades. The last few chapters swept me into a maelstrom of emotions, and some utterly shocking developments. And all completely logical. I’d even foreseen some of them, but they still took me completely by surprise when they happened.

This was another unputdownable outing from the author, a well-written urban fantasy with loads of action, some memorable characters and that trademark Australian wit. Now I can’t wait for the final installment. Five stars.

Divider

Short fantasy review: ‘The Family Business’ by Marina Finlayson

March 21, 2015 Review 0

If you’ve ever wondered what the Sphinx thought about her perpetual task of riddle-making, and whether she’d like… well, a bit of a change occasionally, this is the story for you. It’s not even very long (4,000 words), so you can’t argue that you’ve got no time. It’s original, clever and very, very funny – what’s not to like?

I don’t normally read short stories, but the author went straight onto my must-read list after I loved her urban fantasy set in Sydney, Twiceborn (with werewolves and dragons, what could be better?). I had to try this too, and I’m so glad I did. Five stars.

Divider

Urban Fantasy Review: ‘Twiceborn’ by Marina Finlayson

March 10, 2015 Review 2

I almost missed out on this one. I started reading, loved the opening, really got into it, things were just rolling along merrily when… werewolf. Now, werewolves are part of the unholy trinity, along with vampires and zombies, that I never read if I can possibly avoid it. So… oh dear. But then I discovered that the book has dragons in it… DRAGONS! Yes! Dragons make everything better. So I started again, and boy, am I glad I did. Because this book was just so much fun (yes, even the werewolves).

Here’s the premise: Kate is a twenty-something Sydneysider, recovering (not very well) from a messy divorce and the death of her young son. To keep herself busy, she undertakes occasional courier jobs for friend Ben, and if the jobs are a little suspect, and involve disguises and evading strange people tailing her, she’s too sunk in gloom to worry about it. Until one day she finds that the package to be delivered is addressed to her, she has bizarre lapses in memory, flashbacks that involve a lot of blood and she’s swallowed an odd sort of stone. Oh, and she can see coloured auras around some people. And then… werewolf.

At which point, things get to be seriously strange. The flashbacks or dreams or hallucinations become longer and more intriguing, but they do make it relatively easy to work out much of what’s going on. Combined with odd changes in behaviour, like the sudden sexual attractions and urges to kill things, I had a working theory for all the mysteries quite early on. The extensive use of flashbacks can be jarring sometimes, or feel contrived, as a way to keep crucial information from the reader, but here I felt it worked very well.

Kate seemed like a very believable heroine to me, an ordinary woman thrust into a completely extraordinary situation, and coping with it realistically – veering from capable common-sense to go-with-the-flow acceptance, all tempered with a touch of wry humour, which had me laughing out loud many times. I do love a book which makes me laugh. Ben, the love interest, is unusual in that he seems to be quite the most normal character in the book (after Kate herself). I found the romance very believable, although I think Ben may have some competition in the future – love triangle ahoy!

I really liked the Sydney setting. So much urban fantasy is set in London or a major US city, that Australia was a very refreshing change. It would be quite awesome if future books were set in Perth or Melbourne or Adelaide, to keep things fresh. And yes, the dragons were very cool. The drama ramps up nicely at the end to a thrilling climax and a terrific (if implausible) punch-the-air moment.

In many ways this is standard urban fantasy, but it captured my attention beautifully once I’d got past the werewolf moment. It’s a fast, lightweight read, but the humour, the dragons and that awesome moment with the Sydney Harbour Bridge kept me turning the pages with a silly grin on my face. Absolutely fabulous, werewolves and all. For sheer entertainment value, it gets five stars from me.

Divider