Tag Archives: urban fantasy

I Scream, You Scream: A Review of MY SOUL TO TAKE

My exploratory expedition into the land of YA urban fantasy continues with Rachel Vincent’s My Soul to Take. I was lucky enough to pick up an autographed ARC of the first book in Vincent’s new YA series, Soul Screamers, at Book Expo.

MSTT

Something is wrong with Kaylee Cavanaugh

She doesn’t see dead people, but…

She senses when someone near her is about to die. And when that happens, a force beyond her control compels her to scream bloody murder. Literally.

Kaylee just wants to enjoy having caught the attention of the hottest guy in school. But a normal date is hard to come by when Nash seems to know more about her need to scream than she does. And when classmates start dropping dead for no apparent reason, only Kaylee knows who’ll be next…

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I have a confession to make: I don’t like teenagers. I never really cared for them when I was one, and now that I’m slowly making my way through my thirties, I like them even less. For this reason, I tend to avoid stories that are strictly teen-centric. Unless, that is, they are grafted onto something “weird.” You’ll never see me watching The O.C., Gossip Girl, or Beverly Hills 90210, but I never missed an episode of Buffy, Roswell, or Veronica Mars. That’s why I like YA urban fantasy. It’s much easier for me to read a book about teenagers if they happen to be fighting demons, faeries, or grim reapers.

That brings me to Rachel Vincent’s My Soul to Take. From the blurb above, I think it’s safe to assume that you’ve all figured out that Kaylee is, in fact, a banshee–or, to be more accurate, a bean sidhe. A teenage bean sidhe, living in Texas. Yeah…that’s why I love urban fantasy. I love the way authors mix standard fantasy elements–whether it’s vampires, demons, faeries, or wizards–with the “real, modern world.” The worldbuilding aspect is my favorite part of urban fantasy, seeing how the author fits these two pieces–the fantastic and the mundane–together.

Anyway, Vincent’s first Soul Screamers (God, I love that name!) novel is amazing. My Soul to Take is an origin story, introducing us to Kaylee (love that name, too!), her family and friends, and the newly-discovered “hidden world” she inhabits, including the rules regarding bean sidhe and death. Unlike standard folklore, Vincent portrays the bean sidhe as a race that includes both men and women, with each gender having specific powers and abilities. And, since the bean sidhe are closely tied to death, Vincent gives us a glimpse of the delightfully bureaucratic “collection agency” known as Death, complete with interns and regional reapers.

Ideas are all well and good, but if an army marches on its stomach, a novel marches on its characters. I don’t care how interesting a world is or how cool a concept may be, I’m not going to get very far without great characters. Kaylee is a great addition to my list of spunky, smart-mouthed heroines. I love Kaylee’s dad, Aiden, and her Uncle Brendon (I’d love to see a separate series where the two brothers travel around fighting evil…sort of like Supernatural: All Growed Up). Then there’s Sophie Cavanaugh and Nash Hudson, two characters who could have easily been little more than ciphers. Sophie is Kaylee’s cousin–a bubbly, blonde dancer. While she can occasionally be an out-right bitch, Sophie isn’t just another “mean girl.” She isn’t an inherently bad person, she’s just someone who’s used to getting what she wants–from her parents, from her teachers, from boys–making her a perfect foil for Kaylee, who pretty much has to work for everything. Plus, there’s a great running gag about the teachers at their school assuming that Sophie and Kaylee are sisters, which doesn’t sit well with either of them. That leaves Nash Hudson, the “hottest guy in school” mentioned in the blurb above. When Nash is introduced, he’s set-up to be the stereotypical alpha-male high school jock…but, dammit if Vincent didn’t make me like the kid. In the span of about five pages, Nash goes from being the book’s douchebaggy Parker Abrams to being the supportive and trustworthy Riley Finn.

So, yeah, I loved My Soul to Take. If you’re a fan of YA fiction or urban fantasy, you should totally check it out when it’s released in August. As for me, I’ll be patiently awaiting the release of My Soul to Save.

City of Bones: The Joy of a New Discovery

I just finished reading City of Bones, the first book in Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series.  I should start off by saying that I don’t read a lot of YA fiction (except for the new Young James Bond series and Harry Potter, of course) and I haven’t really gotten hooked on urban fantasy (except Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series).  By now, you’ve probably guessed that City of Bones is a YA/urban fantasy novel.  What you might not have guessed is that I absolutely loved it.

There’s a good chance that I would never have picked up City of Bones if it wasn’t recommended by Jen.  It’s one of her favorite books, but that doesn’t always make a good recommendation.  I think the real reason she recommended it was that she knows how much I like the Dresden series, Harry Potter, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  She also, rather tongue-in-cheek, mentioned the fact that it’s set in New York City, with large chunks taking place in Brooklyn.  The key to a good recommendation is knowing what the other person likes, not what you think they like (that kind of thinking led someone to tell me I would “love” A Confederacy of Dunces, which holds the distinction of being the only book I’ve ever hurled across the room in disgust).  My old boss had an amazing knack for recommending books after you told him three or four of your favorite books–I don’t think a single book he told me to read was a letdown.

Now…where was I?  Oh, right:

City of Bones is the story of fifteen-year-old Clarissa “Clary” Fray.  Clary fits right in with my all-time favorite female characters–Willow, Fred, Kitty Pryde, Kaylee, and Hermione.  She’s a little socially awkward, but with enough brains and spunk to see her through.  Clary’s world is turned upside down when she learns that there is a secret, hidden world that no one can see.  No one, except her.  It’s a world of demons, vampires, werewolves, witches and warlocks.  A world patrolled by a group known as Shadowhunters.  Right there, it’s already hitting the happy part of my brain where Buffy, Harry Potter, and Harry Dresden live (not to mention Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere).

To be honest, I was expecting a pretty standard story.  That’s not what I got.  Sure, there were a few things that I called pretty early on.  But, Clare’s narrative throws so many curve-balls that everything I had figured out for myself paled in comparison.  I’m itching to get my hands on the next book in the series–City of Ashes–so I can revisit this world and see what Clare has in store for Clary and the others.

A wizard named Harry

No…not that one. 

For the last year or so, I’ve been slowly and steadily making my way through Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files books.  I just finished the eighth book in paperback (Proven Guilty) and, despite a few ups and downs along the way, I’ve enjoyed every page. 

This Harry is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden.  Like the other Harry, Harry Dresden is a wizard.  Unlike the other Harry, this Harry is also a detective.  He’s also the only certified wizard to advertise in the Chicago yellow pages.  The series begins with Storm Front, which is presented as a pretty straight forward detective story of the wise-cracking, P.I. variety.  Yes, it involves magic, but Butcher treats magic the same way Robert Parker or Elmore Leonard would treat a knife or a handgun.  It’s a tool.  In fact, Harry goes about two-thirds of the way through this first book without doing an ounce of hocus-pocus.

As the series progresses, things get more complicated.  A ton of secondary and tertiary characters move in and out (including Harry’s old mentor Ebenezar McCoy, Michael Carpenter–one of God’s holy hitmen–and a horny talking skull named Bob).  A war erupts between the wizards and the vampires.  But, for the most part, Harry remains Harry.  He’s the same wise-cracking, pop-culture-reference-spouting, bad-luck-having, chivalrous schmuck in the eighth book as he was in the first.

Personally, I’ve probably enjoyed the fourth book, Summer Knight–which involves Harry getting caught up in a civil war between the Summer and Winter Courts of Faerie (don’t ask)–the most.  However, the second book, Fool Moon, also gets high marks for using every possible explanation for lycanthropy under the sun.