BOOK REVIEW: The Dark Net, by Benjamin Percy

BOOK REVIEW: The Dark Net, by Benjamin PercyTitle: The Dark Net by Benjamin Percy
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Published: August 1st 2017
Genres: Horror, Thriller
Pages: 272
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley

Hell on earth is only one click of a mouse away…

The Dark Net is real. An anonymous and often criminal arena that exists in the secret far reaches of the Web, some use it to manage Bitcoins, pirate movies and music, or traffic in drugs and stolen goods. And now an ancient darkness is gathering there as well. This force is threatening to spread virally into the real world unless it can be stopped by members of a ragtag crew:

Twelve-year-old Hannah -- who has been fitted with the Mirage, a high-tech visual prosthetic to combat her blindness-- wonders why she sees shadows surrounding some people.

Lela, a technophobic journalist, has stumbled upon a story nobody wants her to uncover.

Mike Juniper, a one-time child evangelist who suffers from personal and literal demons, has an arsenal of weapons stored in the basement of the homeless shelter he runs.

And Derek, a hacker with a cause, believes himself a soldier of the Internet, part of a cyber army akin to Anonymous.

They have no idea what the Dark Net really contains.

Set in present-day Portland, The Dark Net is a cracked-mirror version of the digital nightmare we already live in, a timely and wildly imaginative techno-thriller about the evil that lurks in real and virtual spaces, and the power of a united few to fight back

Holy hell, what did I just read?? Twelve year old Hannah has been fitted with a device called Mirage that’s very Geordi La Forge, and when she sees through it, she can detect auras around certain people that she wasn’t able to see before. From that moment forward, the story just gets weirder and weirder. Hannah’s technophobic aunt, Lela, is a reporter who is always chasing after the next story. Lela once interviewed a guy named Mike Juniper for a lead, and Mike Juniper is a former child evangelist who has a host of weapons in his homeless shelter’s basement to ward off attacks from demons. The demons of the near future don’t possess people like they used to. Everything, including possession, has gone digital.

Benjamin Percy’s The Dark Net is a demonic techno-thriller that makes you think about all of the information we willingly or inadvertently give to the all-knowing Internet. With the widespread hackings of consumer data over the last few years, with our constant life updates and thoughts on various social media platforms, one has to wonder what’s being done with all of that information. We’re being reduced from DNA to ones and zeroes. Our lives, our life data, is collected, traded, and sold by users of the dark net, and ultimately is used against us in the end.

I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but I thought that the dark net used in demonic practices and zombie apocalypses was a fascinating twist. It’s not something you often think about in our digitally infatuated age. It’s not something we can escape at this point, so how are you going go guard your data, your privacy, and quite literally your life? The Dark Net is a creepy thriller that riffs on horror and zombie tropes, and it’ll make you think twice about the information age.

Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Netgalley for a review copy! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Alchemists of Loom, by Elise Kova

BOOK REVIEW: The Alchemists of Loom, by Elise KovaTitle: The Alchemists of Loom by Elise Kova
Series: Loom Saga #1
Published by Keymaster Press
Published: January 10th 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 395
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley

Her vengeance. His vision.

Ari lost everything she once loved when the Five Guilds’ resistance fell to the Dragon King. Now, she uses her unparalleled gift for clockwork machinery in tandem with notoriously unscrupulous morals to contribute to a thriving underground organ market. There isn’t a place on Loom that is secure from the engineer turned thief, and her magical talents are sold to the highest bidder as long as the job defies their Dragon oppressors.

Cvareh would do anything to see his sister usurp the Dragon King and sit on the throne. His family’s house has endured the shame of being the lowest rung in the Dragons’ society for far too long. The Alchemist Guild, down on Loom, may just hold the key to putting his kin in power, if Cvareh can get to them before the Dragon King’s assassins.

When Ari stumbles upon a wounded Cvareh, she sees an opportunity to slaughter an enemy and make a profit off his corpse. But the Dragon sees an opportunity to navigate Loom with the best person to get him where he wants to go.

He offers her the one thing Ari can’t refuse: A wish of her greatest desire, if she brings him to the Alchemists of Loom.

 Don’t let the shadows of the past smother the possibility for a bright future.

Elise Kova’s The Alchemists of Loom follows Ari after the five guilds fall to the Dragon King. She meets Cvareh, who is wounded, and she thinks she can kill him off as some kind of revenge, but she decides not to when she learns he can grant her the boon she wants if she takes him to the Alchemists of Loom.

Premise of this is amazing and right up my alley, but something about it fell short for me. Most of it has to do with the fact that we’re thrown in media res without much explanation or world building. We’re just supposed to piece it together with the help of a glossary in the back (which one might not know about if one’s reading a digital copy) or through hints made throughout the story. I don’t mind it if a world is built as sort of an unfolding, but this was like opening up a single folded sheet of paper. You open it and it’s all there like glitter and you’re supposed to keep it all together while trying not to let it spill everywhere. It took me to get about halfway through the book until I felt familiar enough with the world and the characters and the rest of the details to start enjoying the book. I kept reading only because I wanted to know what Cvareh would do.

This book falls under the steampunk fantasy variety and features an indistinct world in which everything happens. There are five guilds with distinct practices, a Dragon king (and I was a little bit disappointed to discover they weren’t actually dragons), shady characters, some light romance that felt entirely forced (oh yes the main girl and the main guy argue all the time and clash all the time so of course they’ll automatically like each other).

Ari reminded me a lot of Celaena in Maas’s Throne of Glass series before she became Aelin, and Ari in this novel is a well-known criminal with an intent to restore Loom to its former glory before the Dragons took over. Her motive is unclear though, and I don’t really find a connection or sympathy to a character who has a mission. She is unyielding to that mission, but she has no clear motive for what she does, just that things must be made right. Okay? But why? Her sidekick/lover/girlfriend/??? Florence is more interesting and believable than Ari. Cvareh is the trickster sort of character who seems to flip flop between wanting to save himself, work for the Dragons, or help Ari, and the most interesting twists of the story seem to come from his actions.

The story’s action moves at a brisk pace, and I enjoyed that about the book. I just wish I had a bit more of Ari’s backstory to connect her motive with her actions and reactions because a lot of Ari’s life and relationships read completely unclear. I am going to see what the reviews are for the second one to gauge reactions to what happens next before I pick it up, but I hope it focuses more on Cvareh’s side of things!

Overall, it’s an enjoyable fantasy if someone’s ready to take a step up from “YA” fantasy and try something new.

A review copy of this book was provided to me for review by Netgalley and the publisher. All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Strange Practice, by Vivian Shaw

BOOK REVIEW: Strange Practice, by Vivian ShawTitle: Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw
Series: Dr. Greta Helsing #1
Published by Orbit
Published: July 25th 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 400
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley

Meet Greta Helsing, fast-talking doctor to the undead. Keeping the supernatural community not-alive and well in London has been her family's specialty for generations.

Greta Helsing inherited the family's highly specialized, and highly peculiar, medical practice. In her consulting rooms, Dr. Helsing treats the undead for a host of ills - vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights, and entropy in mummies. Although barely making ends meet, this is just the quiet, supernatural-adjacent life Greta's been groomed for since childhood.

Until a sect of murderous monks emerges, killing human and undead Londoners alike. As terror takes hold of the city, Greta must use her unusual skills to stop the cult if she hopes to save her practice, and her life.

Vivian Shaw’s Strange Practice has just about everything I look for in a modern, urban fantasy. Dr. Greta Helsing (a descendant of those Van Helsings) is a GP to the supernatural inhabitants of London – vampires, vampyres (there’s a difference), demons, ghouls, mummies, werewolves, you name it. When the story begins, Greta is doing a house call and she finds out there has been another attack in a string of murders involving a weird religious sect. Through the developing arc of who, or what, is behind the Rosary Ripper murders.

Shaw develops Greta’s London throughout the story, and I loved reading about all of the supernatural beings she encounters, treats, and cares for. Each type of being has their own social hierarchies, and I really enjoyed the fact that Greta has to rely on her knowledge of mythology, folklore, and the like, along with her shared family history, in order to figure out her patients’ symptoms and probable cures. Maybe it’s me, but I think it’s rare to find a female protagonist who isn’t in her twenties in urban fantasy these days, and I liked that she was slightly older than the typical protagonist and was slightly stiff and reserved around other people until she became familiar with them. There’s a little bit of a budding infatuation, but I liked that this was mostly focused on the relationships Greta has with her friends and colleagues. Romance is nice, but it’s better to have a core set of people to rely on and trust when things go terribly, terribly wrong. She truly cares about her people, and her people care about her.

And if you love London and aren’t there now, this book will make you long to be back on those winding streets and wandering through those dark alleys on a cool night. As soon as I started reading this, I felt like I was transported right back to that city, and I felt like I could trace the routes these characters took in map I have in my mind. It felt real, it felt wonderful, and it made me wish I could go back just to see if I could catch a glimpse of the others hidden in the shadows.

Strange Practice is a thrilling romp through the London we think we know with a fantastic set of characters that will keep you hooked until the very end.

Thank you to Orbit and Netgalley for a review copy! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Duels & Deception, by Cindy Anstey

BOOK REVIEW: Duels & Deception, by Cindy AnsteyTitle: Duels and Deception by Cindy Anstey
Published by Swoon Reads
Published: April 11th 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Historical, Fiction
Pages: 368
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley

Miss Lydia Whitfield, heiress to the family fortune, has her future entirely planned out. She will run the family estate until she marries the man of her late father's choosing, and then she will spend the rest of her days as a devoted wife. Confident in those arrangements, Lydia has tasked her young law clerk, Mr. Robert Newton, to begin drawing up the marriage contracts. Everything is going according to plan.

Until Lydia—and Robert along with her—is kidnapped. Someone is after her fortune and won't hesitate to destroy her reputation to get it. With Robert's help, Lydia strives to keep her family's good name intact and expose whoever is behind the devious plot. But as their investigation delves deeper and their affections for each other grow, Lydia starts to wonder whether her carefully planned future is in fact what she truly wants…

She quite enjoyed the intensity of the stranger’s gaze whenever their eyes met, and her sudden shortness of breath was not in the least alarming.

Cindy Anstey’s Duels & Deceptions is incredibly adorable, and that’s not a word I really use to describe YA fiction. Not lately, anyway. I think this book suffered one of those cute, but wrong moment kind of reads. It also didn’t have the same pacing that her first book had, so I didn’t feel as swept away in the cute Regency romantic adventure of it all like I was with the first. However, it is incredibly rare to find a YA romance that’s cute, fluffy, and ultimately free of sex? Like, it’s exactly what you might expect from a fluffy romance – breathlessness, lingering glances, fluttery hearts, etcetera. I’m also a sucker for the slow burn stuff, and this is full of that longing.

Anstey plays with the idea of what’s appropriate in Regency society, and most of the tension and drama in the novel comes from an incident in which Lydia and Robert are kidnapped. The two main characters are already aware of each other and already feel something toward each other but haven’t quite figured out what that feeling might be. The story was a bit slow from the kidnapping until the final, somewhat predictable reveal of some bribery and of who arranged for the kidnapping, but it wasn’t a terrible sort of slow. I think, like I mentioned before, I was expecting more of that constant feeling of adventure and excitement like I got from her other book to be present in this novel, especially with the word duels in the title!

If you like cute, fluffy historical romances and are in the mood for a few giggles, Duels & Deceptions might be right up your alley. I’ll certainly be recommending it to readers who are ready to bridge from the children’s section but aren’t quite ready for the heavy-handed drama, tension, and sex often found in the pages of some YA romance!

A copy of this book was provided to me for review by the publisher and Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Bone Witch, by Rin Chupeco

BOOK REVIEW: The Bone Witch, by Rin ChupecoTitle: The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco
Series: The Bone Witch #1
Published by Sourcebooks Fire
Published: March 7th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 400
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley

The beast raged; it punctured the air with its spite. But the girl was fiercer.
Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living—and of the human.
Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. There, Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong—stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves.

Rin Chupeco’s The Bone Witch is a fantasy about a girl who accidentally discovers her powers when she brings her brother back to life. She is taken in by a bone witch for training, and her brother, Fox, becomes her zombie familiar of sorts. The story follows Tea’s instruction from age twelve to about age fifteen? We get to see the “coven” in which she is raised and trained, the day-to-day life, the details of the clothes she and the other people wear, glimpses of the food, and all of the minute details that comprise Tea’s education. In a way, this works, but it also drags the story out and often feels like nothing is happening. Most of the action happens in the first quarter of the book and the last quarter of the book, and the rest is mostly world building filler with a few minor conflicts that Tea has while learning how to utilize her powers.

The world building in this story draws heavily from Chinese influences, and this makes it different for me from any of the recent YA fantasy I’ve read. The atmosphere and setting are richly detailed, and everything is described so vividly, and I enjoyed that a lot. I also like that the main character’s magical powers are necromancy. It’s dark, and it’s different from the soft and beautiful magic often reserved for female characters. I like that, and I want to see how that power grows and manifests itself as she ages. Fox is probably my favorite character, because who doesn’t love a sidekick named Fox who is also a zombie and who also has an interesting personality?

After finishing this, I found myself wanting more, more to have happened and more to have been done with the story. The intertwining parts of a bard recounting his experiences with an asha (who is most likely Tea) in the future with the story of Tea in the past is very reminiscent of Rothfuss’s Kvothe in The Name of the Wind, and I feel like this is like the younger end of the spectrum YA sibling to The Kingkiller Chronicles. The world Chupeco created is so grand and so vivid that I just wanted to see more of Tea’s interaction with that world and within that world rather than descriptions of it, and I’m hoping that’s what we’ll get to read in the sequel.

A copy of this book was provided to me by Sourcebooks Fire and Netgalley for review; all opinions are my own.