“The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 13: Company Time” by Max Gladstone and Lindsay Smith (Serialbox, 2015)

CIA agent Dominic Alvarez just so happens to be an acolyte for the Flame, a detail that wasn’t revealed until the very end of the last episode, and he just happens to have kidnapped Maksin Sokolov, a Russian informant and powerful magical host, after the CIA managed to smuggle him away from the Russians and get him to a safe house. He’s scheduled to be on a specific plane and headed to the States, except that the pilot is still waiting around for his cargo who is late and doesn’t appear to be showing. Meanwhile, Alvarez and Sokolov are on a very different cargo plane flying to another destination, playing a game of chess.

KGB agent Tanya Morozova and CIA operative Gabe Pritchard meet to discuss their options for getting Sokolov back somehow. Once before they put their powers together, and with Gabe’s magical construct flaring inside him, and Tanya being a sorceress of the Ice, together they pack one heck of a magical wallop. It will require a big ritual, with lots of magical setup, and then their putting their powers together. But it’s their only hope.

While the season finale does have a hefty dose of magical action going on, the ending feels a little anticlimactic, and definitely leaves the reader and listener wanting more, but it certainly sets up hopes and interests for a possible future season in the continuing adventures of The Witch Who Came in From the Cold.

Originally written on April 23, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Company Time from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 12: She’ll Lie Down in the Snow” by Cassandra Rose Clarke (Serialbox, 2016)

Things are coming to a climax in this penultimate episode to season one of The Witch Who Came in From the Cold. Tanya Morozova knows she’s walking straight into a trap: she’s been ordered by her boss at the KGB to get the Russian informant back no matter what, but she also knows the safe house she’s headed to is guarded by a small army of CIA who know full well that she’s coming. Fortunately, Zerena Pulnoc, wife to the Soviet Ambassador and acolyte of the Flame has given her a protective charm to help keep her alive; she also reveals that Tanya’s boss, Sasha, happens to be an acolyte of the Flame, which is why he’s fine with sacrificing Tanya.

Tanya and her people enter the safe house and there’s a big shootout. Sokolov has already been moved and is in no danger, meanwhile the bullets are flying and lives will be lost on both the Russian and American sides. And at the end of the episode a big twist is revealed that changes everything and sets things up for a big season finale.

Originally written on April 23, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of She’ll Lie Down in the Snow from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 11: King’s Gambit Accepted” by Ian Tregillis (Serialbox, 2016)

After the heavy action of the previous episodes, Anchises, episode 11 is kind of calm that comes after an intense fight scene; readers and listeners get to explore the fallout of the aforementioned events and how the characters deal with the big developments that are now going down.

Maksin Sokolov is gone and purported to be dead, except Tanya Morozova is meeting with her boss, Sasha, and telling him how it went down and how the CIA “smuggled” the informant out via the river and used a recently placed corpse to distract the KGB, but Tanya isn’t falling for it. Sasha gives her an ultimatum, telling her she needs to get Sokolov back no matter what, and she can use whatever resources are necessary. With help from her coworker and fellow Ice acolyte, Nadia Ostrokhina, they use some good old fashioned magic to locate where Sokolov is, using a magically-spruced-up theodolite to track the contruct and see where Sokolov ended up.

Meanwhile, CIA agents Dominic and Josh are watching their informant and keeping him as safe and secure as possible, while Gabe is out getting some R&R. Killing time they talk about Gabe, Dominic wondering whether he can trust him, and more importantly whether he can trust Sokolov in Gabe’s hands. Josh admits he doesn’t know the man that well, but they do address his dark episode in Cairo.

Originally written on April 23, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of King’s Gambit Accepted from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 10: Anchises” by Lindsay Smith (Serialbox, 2016)

This is the tenth episode in the series; reviews for all other episodes can be found here.

Operation ANCHISES, after all the hype and setup, is finally put in motion with a classic scene of spying and espionage and all things clandestine, as Joshua Toms skillfully passes along a secret message to the informant, Maksim Sokolov.

With a follow-up meeting at the West German Embassy, the final showdown is begun. Sokolov is here with his host of Russian minders, keeping a close eye on his every move. Sokolov plays the part well, domineering, threatening to Joshua and Gabe. Gabe Pritchard has a trick up his sleeve, as he gets a hold of a special charm secreted on his person, mutters the correct incantation, and then serves the minders shots. A short while later, a regular old bar brawl begins just as planned and Gabe is starting to think this spy craft via magic ain’t too bad.

A while later arrests are made; Tanya Morozova, as a member of the KGB, instead of following Gabe, decides to make a trip to the hospital and check on those Russian minders. Meanwhile, the man known as Maksim Sokolov is just gone and appears to have drowned.

In this action- and magic-packed episode, things heat up to a new level, but its not until the next episode, that the full realization of Operation ANCHISES is fully understood.

Originally written on March 24, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of A Dream of Ice from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Revisionary” by Jim C. Hines (DAW, 2016)

Things have come to a very sharp point in the world of Magic Ex Libris. Isaac Vainio has revealed to the world that magic is a thing that exists and can be done by certain people. His goal was to create a utopian future where magic and humanity could live happily together. A year has passed and things are anything but . . .

Vainio is working at an installation that is looking to help those in need with the use of magic. Meanwhile there is a mercenary group known as Vanguard made up of ex-Porters and magical creatures conducting terrorist attacks on America and wants to start an all out war. The US government doesn’t really know how to handle this, and is capturing and locking away “potential supernatural enemies.” Overseas, China uses a nuclear weapon to combat against magical creatures, and Russia is forcefully drafting all inhumans into its military. Everything is pretty much going to hell real fast, and it was all essentially kicked into high gear by one Porter known as Isaac Vainio, so it’s up to him to fix it all somehow.

Out of the four Magic Ex Libris books, Revisionary is definitely a much darker and more intense novel. Everything is at stake here and all the people we have come to like and know may not make it out alive. Because this is also a world of the human and magical non-human, there are some definite parallels with the X-Men universe, which while understandable would’ve been more interesting if Hines had tackled this controversial subject from a different angle. Nevertheless, Revisionary is an intense, heart-stopping finale to a really great urban fantasy series.

Originally written on March 23, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Revisionary from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Sunborn Rising: Beneath the Fall” by Aaron Safronoff (Neoglyphic Entertainment, 2016)

In a galaxy far, far away is a unique blue world composed mostly of a single massive ocean, upon which island flotillas are the only forms of land. But upon these flotillas are rainforests of mighty trees reaching into the sky, housing a thriving ecosystem of the many species living in the trees on the world of Cerulean.

A young Listlespur named Barra has once again snuck into her father’s study. He has been gone for some time, so coming here is one of the few places she can feel at peace and remember him. She finds her father’s journals, ones that have never been seen before. Bursting with excitement, she begins reading.

The world of Cerulean, deep within the trees, is a somewhat dark place and this is how it has always been, it is thought. Within the journals, Barra learns of a secret blight, a mysterious plague. The trees thrive on water and light, and this creeping vine has been staunching and strangling this flow bit by bit, gaining more and more territory, and turning it into a dark and withered place. Barra has always suspected something, and here is the proof from her father, who told the Elders, and yet nothing has been done about it.

Along with the help of two close friends, a wiry Rugosic named Tory and a cute and cuddly Kalalabat named Plicks, Barra begins her investigation, traveling to unfamiliar locales. They also pass down into the dangerous—and forbidden—Middens. It is there that they see physical proof of the black vine plague taking over the trees. Suddenly, they are attacked and do their best to evade getting infected. Before they know it, they are plunging down beneath the Fall and into another part of their world that they have only ever heard legends about. There they will learn many wonders, face new enemies, as well as gaining new friends, and hopefully find a way to combat the plague. That is if they can ever make it back to their home.

When reading Sunborn Rising, one cannot help but think of Avatar, with this strange world of colorful creatures. But this story goes so much more further with its characters and plot than the movie ever did. The author does a great job of creating not just an ecosystem with the trees and flora, but showing in the ways of the character’s lives: in their food, how they talk, the language they use, the world they live in that is influenced and in many ways controlled by the arboreal world. It also shows in the vocabulary and words Aaron Safronoff uses that adds to the whole ambiance of the novel.

The book also features 40 full-color works of art and 80 unique illustrations that add more to the setting and feel of the book. Readers are shown what the colorful characters and environments actually look like, while the illustrations provide important details that help to get the thoughts solidly in the reader’s head. The way the book is written, it could be aimed and enjoyed by a middle reader, but also by adults as it does what every fantasy book should: present a unique world with interesting characters and a fascinating story that keeps the reader hooked from beginning to end.

Originally written on February 7, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the San Francisco Book Review.

To purchase a copy of Sunborn Rising: Beneath the Fall from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Every Heart a Doorway” by Seanan McGuire (Tor, 2016)

Seanan McGuire has a number of books under her belt, with both the October Daye and Incryptid series. Then there are the many books she’s written under Mira Grant. So with the publication of her new novel,with a new publisher – Tor, readers might be expecting something similar to what they’ve read before. Every Heart a Doorway is completely different to anything she has written before, and it may be (at least in my opinion) the best piece of fiction she’s written so far.

There is a special place for special children. These kids and teens have traveled to magical worlds, places of fable, locations that are disbelieved by our world. Then for one reason or another, are kicked out of their desired realm and brought back to ours. Now they feel incredibly lost and helpless and don’t know what to do. Their parents in many cases thought them lost and/or dead, and now that they’re back they appear to be wrong in some way.

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is this special place that will help these children. It will take them in and foster them. Eleanor West herself went through this experience, and like the many children, hopes to one day return to her magical world. For now, with the help of teachers and classes and therapy, they learn to accept the way the world is, but at the same time are encouraged to accept the way they are, yearning for a lost world.

Except now something is killing the children. Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is no longer the safe, comfortable, welcoming refuge it has always been.

In some ways Every Heart a Doorway has a certain Neil Gaiman feel to it, but at the same time it is only the sort of book Seanan McGuire could have ever written. It is magical and lyrical and moving. While it is a short read, readers will want to race along to the end to find out what happens, but at the same time savor every word and page and make it last an eternity.

Originally written on March 24, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Every Heart a Doorway from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.