Book Reviews: Strout & McGuire

I wrote both of these reviews a while back, when I was thinking I might try to start up a separate book reviewing blog called “Magic ex Libris” — a tie-in to my new series.  And then I realized there was no way in Hades that I could add another blog to my online obligations.  I found my notes tonight, and figured I’d clean them up and get ’em posted.  Better late than never, right?

Dead Matter [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] is the third book in Anton Strout’s light urban fantasy series, in which Department of Extraordinary Affairs agent Simon Canderous uses psychometry and a big bat to fight the nasties of New York.

Our story begins with Simon’s partner Connor taking a sabbatical to look for his missing brother, leaving poor Simon to cover twice the workload.  Simon eventually manages to slip away for some personal time with his girlfriend (ex-cultist and technomancer Jane).  Naturally, given Simon’s luck, Taco Night is interrupted by an angry, lumbering monster with lots of pointy bits.

Pointy monster is just the beginning.  Simon, Jane, and Connor slowly uncover a bigger problem — one which puts Simon in the crosshairs of just about everyone, monster and human alike.

I like this series.  I like the sense of fun, and there’s much less angst than in your average urban fantasy.  (Though sometimes it feels like Strout is trying a little too hard for the funny.)  Like the previous two books, this one is a quick read.  My only complaint is that the beginning meandered a bit.  Taco Night monster seemed like a random encounter, and it took a few chapters to start to get a sense of a larger story.

Dead Matter stands alone pretty well, but you’ll get more out of it if you’ve read the first two books in the series.

Seanan McGuire scares me.  She’s writing two series simultaneously, under two different names.  She’s also a singer with multiple albums, as well as a gifted artist.  I think she’s also Batman.

A Local Habitation [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] is the second book in McGuire’s urban fantasy series about October “Toby” Daye, a half-human, half-fairy changeling and knight of the Shadowed Hills.  (In the San Francisco area, for those not familiar with fae territories.)  This time around, Toby must visit the realm of Countess January O’Leary in the County of Tamed Lightning to investigate a series of bizarre murders.

McGuire gives good fae.  Reading this series, you just know she has a dozen notebooks filled with the details of the various fairy bloodlines, territories, allegiances, and powers.[1. She recently started posting some of her worldbuilding info on her blog.]  She makes them real.  Often more real and complex than humans, who are mostly just background noise this time around.

A Local Habitation uses the locked room mystery format.  Someone in Countess O’Leary’s computer company is murdering her people.  Is it Alex, the irresistibly sexy love interest with a secret?  April, the dryad whose “tree” is the computer server?  Gordan, the cranky but skilled healer?

There were times when I wish Toby had been quicker to pick up on various clues.  It sometimes felt like McGuire was trying a little too hard to hold back information.  In a mystery, you obviously don’t want the reader to figure things out too quickly.  At the same time, the fae of Tamed Lightning were a little too secretive, holding back one important revelation after another, even as they’re dying.

There’s a lot to like about this book.  It was great to see more of fairy society.  I particularly enjoyed the revelations about the night-haunts.  The murder mystery, once we discover the truth, was fascinating on a number of levels, and I hope McGuire follows up on some of the things we learn about Faerie.  And April is just great.  (I tend to have a weakness for dryads.)