[Review] BLOOD RIDERS by Michael Spradlin

Michael Spradlin

Cover Copy: The Western Territories, 1880. For four years, Civil War veteran and former U.S. Cavalry Captain Jonas P. Hollister has been rotting in a prison cell at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. His crime: lying about the loss of eleven soldiers under his command . . . who he claims were slaughtered by a band of nonhuman, blood-drinking demons.

But now a famous visitor, the detective Allan Pinkerton, has arrived with an order for Hollister’s release. The brutal murder of a group of Colorado miners in a fashion frighteningly similar to the deaths of Hollister’s men has leant new credence to his wild tale. And suddenly Jonas Hollister finds himself on a quest both dangerous and dark—joining forces with Pinkerton, the gunsmith Oliver Winchester, an ex-fellow prisoner, a woman of mystery, and a foreigner named Abraham Van Helsing, who knows many things about the monsters of the night—and riding hell for leather toward an epic confrontation . . . with the undead.

My Thoughts: When I heard BLOOD RIDERS was a western with vampires, I had to check it out.

At first BLOOD RIDERS reminded me of Firefly. The main character Jonas Hollister is a man with morals and similar in ways to Malcolm Reynolds. And like Mal, Jonas is having to fight otherworldly flesh-eating creatures.

In the opening scene, Jonas Hollister leads a team of eleven men to check out a camp that was reportedly attacked by blood devils. What they find makes Hollister’s skin crawl. Very little blood. Bodies lying face down in the dirt. Goods and valuables still in place. This was not the work of the usual suspects. Then Hollister and his men are attacked by the bodies that aren’t so dead after all. Fortunately, the sun is on the rise, forcing the vamps to retreat, but the only one to survive is Hollister. He tells his tale, but is deemed a liar and thrown into jail at Leavenworth.

At first Hollister tries to get his story heard and he sends out letters. But no one is listening. Until four years later when Alan Pinkerton shows up because the same attack has happened again. They want Hollister to track and kill this band of vampires. And Hollister, although not fully vindicated, is willing to do it.

Meanwhile a mysterious woman, Shaniah, is tracking this band of vampires, but she’s also a vampire herself. Through her we learn a rogue group of her kind traveled to North America and are intent on wiping out the human race. She’s tracking them intending to stop them. She crosses paths with Hollister and realizes he’s also tracking them, so she decides to follow Hollister. Then she learns Hollister’s side-kick Chee can sense her presence and poses a threat to her plans.

Up until this point Shaniah is an excellent character: strong woman, on a path of justice, supposedly a great ruler of her people. But then she does some stupid things– leaves bodies where they can be found and decides Chee is a threat and must be eliminated. Why do strong female characters have to do stupid things?

This book had me hooked– really had me– right up until Van Helsing and Winchester showed up and the steampunk toys came out. While there was a certain coolness factor in all this, I thought the story of Hollister, his side-kick Chee and the mystery woman could have stood on its own. The distraction of famous names and steampunk toys wasn’t enough to keep me from reading, though. They don’t stick around for the full novel.

The steampunk toys include a modified steam engine and steam-powered weapons specifically designed for dealing with the vampires. They fire water and wood-filled bullets. The BFG in BLOOD RIDERS is a steam-powered, 4-barreled shotgun, nicknamed Ass Kicker. Cool toys. Good defenses against vampires.

BLOOD RIDERS is unusual in it’s collision of elements, making it perfect for anyone looking to try something different but not too weird. The characters are heroes you will root for as they fight some villains you will hate.

BLOOD RIDERS is a well-written romp through the Old West with some new twists that will keep you turning the pages to see what happens next.

I think it makes for some good methadone for Firefly addicts, too.

Rating: A-
Publisher: HarperCollins, Sept. 2012
Acquired: Edelweiss

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[Review] SHADOW OF NIGHT by Deborah Harkness

Deborah Harkness
genre: historical urban fantasy

Cover Copy: Deborah Harkness exploded onto the literary scene with her debut novel,A Discovery of Witches, Book One of the magical All Souls Trilogy and an international publishing phenomenon. The novel introduced Diana Bishop, Oxford scholar and reluctant witch, and the handsome geneticist and vampire Matthew Clairmont; together they found themselves at the center of a supernatural battle over an enchanted manuscript known as Ashmole 782.

Now, picking up from A Discovery of Witches’ cliffhanger ending,Shadow of Night plunges Diana and Matthew into Elizabethan London, a world of spies, subterfuge, and a coterie of Matthew’s old friends, the mysterious School of Night that includes Christopher Marlowe and Walter Raleigh. Here, Diana must locate a witch to tutor her in magic, Matthew is forced to confront a past he thought he had put to rest, and the mystery of Ashmole 782 deepens.

Deborah Harkness has crafted a gripping journey through a world of alchemy, time travel, and magical discoveries, delivering one of the most hotly anticipated novels of the season.

My Thoughts: I did not read the first book in this series, but that didn’t put me at a disadvantage for jumping into the middle of the trilogy. Harkness does a good job of catching the reader up in the first couple of chapters while also laying the groundwork for the story to come.

This is a great book for anyone looking for more history mixed up in their magical tales– or more magic mixed up in their history.  The legendary Kit Marlowe and Thomas Harriot are daemons in Harkness’s world. Henry Percy and Walter Raleigh are alchemists. Together these gents were known as the School of Night.

With great writing, intriguing characters, SHADOW OF NIGHT is sure to please anyone who likes historical urban fantasy.

Rating: A-
Series: All Souls Trilogy, #2
Publisher: Viking Adult, July 2012
Acquired: NetGalley

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Tomorrow at Urban Fantasy Land, we’ll be reviewing Deborah Harkness’s latest release, SHADOW OF NIGHT.

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[Review] MOONGLOW by Kristen Callihan

Kristen Callihan
Genre: historical paranormal romance

Cover Copy:
Once the seeds of desire are sown . . .
Finally free of her suffocating marriage, widow Daisy Ellis Craigmore is ready to embrace the pleasures of life that have long been denied her. Yet her new-found freedom is short lived. A string of unexplained murders has brought danger to Daisy’s door, forcing her to turn to the most unlikely of saviors . . .

Their growing passion knows no bounds . . .
Ian Ranulf, the Marquis of Northrup, has spent lifetimes hiding his primal nature from London society. But now a vicious killer threatens to expose his secrets. Ian must step out of the shadows and protect the beautiful, fearless Daisy, who awakens in him desires he thought long dead. As their quest to unmask the villain draws them closer together, Daisy has no choice but to reveal her own startling secret, and Ian must face the undeniable truth: Losing his heart to Daisy may be the only way to save his soul.

My Thoughts:  Although it’s set in Victorian London and a paranormal romance, I think MOONGLOW will appeal to lovers of historical urban fantasy. The historical elements are accurate, the city is vivid, and there’s plenty of action. I figure the happily ever after is just a nice bonus.

MOONGLOW tells the story of Daisy Craigmore a recent widow with an extraordinary sense of smell, and Ian Ranulf, the shunned werewolf who should be the leader of the pack. A rogue werewolf starts attacking and eating people, and it seems to be targeting Daisy. Ian, wanting to catch the culprit, takes Daisy under his protection to keep her safe, but also to use her for bait. This is where other historicals might leave the heroine helpless and dependant on the hero. But not Callihan. Daisy soon discovers she has a magical power– she can move the earth and rapidly grow plants. It may not seem like much of a power, but in the moment Daisy discovers it, she impales some bad guys with tree roots. (Like I said, the action is great!)

A romance blossoms between Daisy and Ian over the course of these trials and tribulations, and Callihan develops it really well.

The plot does get a little twisted with its improbable “secret baby” subplot towards the end, but there’s enough adrenaline-infused action and other character development that this convoluted bit is relatively minor.

MOONGLOW is sure to be easily enjoyed by readers of romance, urban fantasy and historicals.

Rating: A-
Series: Darkest London, #2
Publisher: Forever, July 2012
Acquired: NetGalley

Get itAmazon | Chapters/Indigo | Goodreads | Kobo | Sony

[Review] FIRELIGHT by Kristen Callihan

Kristen Callihan
Genre: historical paranormal romance

Cover Copy:
Once the flames are ignited . . .

Miranda Ellis is a woman tormented. Plagued since birth by a strange and powerful gift, she has spent her entire life struggling to control her exceptional abilities. Yet one innocent but irreversible mistake has left her family’s fortune decimated and forced her to wed London’s most nefarious nobleman.

They will burn for eternity . . .

Lord Benjamin Archer is no ordinary man. Doomed to hide his disfigured face behind masks, Archer knows it’s selfish to take Miranda as his bride. Yet he can’t help being drawn to the flame-haired beauty whose touch sparks a passion he hasn’t felt in a lifetime. When Archer is accused of a series of gruesome murders, he gives in to the beastly nature he has fought so hard to hide from the world. But the curse that haunts him cannot be denied. Now, to save his soul, Miranda will enter a world of dark magic and darker intrigue. For only she can see the man hiding behind the mask.

My Thoughts: The story is set in Victorian London, but I feel comfortable including FIRELIGHT here at Urban Fantasy Land, because of the monsters, mystery and action. The story is, however, historical paranormal romance.

Kristen Callihan’s FIRELIGHT is about a young woman with the unusual ability to spontaneously produce fire who meets a man who must wear a mask to hide the damage he suffered in an accident, set in Victorian London. A fire-and-ice, beauty-and-the-beast, love-hate relationship ensues.

Miranda Ellis is a firestarter. She is an otherwise perfectly normal young woman– she just has this ability to spontaneously light fires. We never do find out how she acquired this ability, nor are we shown how she conjures it, leaving a large void in the world-building.

That aside, Miranda and Archer engage in some witty banter, and if there’s one thing Callihan does really, really well, it’s subtext around the dialogue. Also, Callihan includes a fantastic running gag throughout the novel.

I had to rate this one a B because of the world-building problems, but I heartily look forward to the next in the series.

Rating: B
Series: Darkest London, #1
Publisher: Forever, January 2012
Acquired: NetGalley

Get it — Amazon| Chapters/Indigo | Goodreads | Kobo | Sony